Four independent UN human rights experts on Friday called for the immediate release [press release] of Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism-related charges after being tried before the Bahrain military National Safety Court in June 2011. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya [official profile] expressed concern that Al-Khawaja's trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights. Maina Kiai [official profile], the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, provided skepticism about both the proportionality and proper review of Bahrain's "national security" restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, noting such restrictions should not be used to suppress human rights activists. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul [official profile] expressed concern that Al-Khawaja and other civilian human rights defenders have been tried before military courts, particularly since allegations of defendants' confessions being made under duress reportedly have not been investigated despite the confessions being admitted at trial, constituting a contravention of international law. Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez [official profile] condemned the Bahraini government for failing to adhere to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners [text] regarding Al-Khawaja's physical and mental integrity. Al-Khawaja was allegedly physically mistreated and perhaps tortured [JURIST report] while in custody, displaying visible physical signs of abuse at trial. Special rapporteurs [UN News Centre report] hold unpaid honorary positions apart from UN staff, and are appointed by the Human Rights Council [official website] to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
Earlier this month Al-Khawaja's lawyers and members of the Bahrain opposition appealed his conviction [JURIST report] to the Bahrain Court of Cassation, which is expected to issue a verdict on April 23. Al-Khawaja is a Danish citizen, the former protection coordinator with Front Line Defenders [advocacy website] and a leading Bahraini human rights defender. The UN experts' call for his release came among international concern for his health due to repeated hunger strikes [JURIST report], the most recent of which he has been staging since February 8. Several parties, including Danish diplomats, have confirmed his deteriorating condition, and pictures and reports have surfaced documenting his poor state of health despite contrary assurances by Bahraini authorities. Last month Amnesty International [advocacy website] called for Al-Khawaja's release when his hunger strike passed 50 days [JURIST report], which came a few weeks after Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused Bahrain of convicting hundreds of opposition activists in unfair and politically motivated trials in a 94-page report detailing alleged due process violations [JURIST report] in both civilian and military courts.