Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is the co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He was arrested soon after the start of the mass protests in February 2011. In June, he was sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal.
Alkhawaja was on hunger strike for more than 100 days from February to May. His strike was halted as a civilian court renewed hearing into his case and that of 20 other activists given lengthy prison terms.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has released a transcript of Alkhawaja's testimony before the court on 22 May 2012:
Gentlemen, President and members of the honorable Supreme Court of Appeal,
Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before your venerable selves, as I have been deprived of this right throughout the previous stages of the litigation. Kindly note that my statement has been excluded during the investigation as a result of me being subjected to torture.
I, the Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, have been subjected since April 9th 2011 to arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, psychological and physical torture, sexual assault and unfair trial, without having committed any offense for which I deserve legal punishment, in addition to torture and other violations criminalized by international and national laws. Please note that I do not belong to any association or political group, though this is not an offense in itself but rather a natural right of any human being.
These current and previous violations were in fact motivated by the thorny, difficult path which I have chosen, that is to defend human rights, not only as a matter of specialization and career --- given that I am a researcher and trainer in this area --- but also that I have decided that my duty is to stand with the oppressed and the victims of various abuses to which they are exposed, disregarding the risks from and reactions of those who perpetrated such violations. Thus, my activities and practice involved serious issues such as political and financial corruption, arbitrary detention, torture, the privileges of the ruling class, sectarian and ethnic discrimination, as well as other topics including poverty and the right to human dignity, adequate jobs and housing, and the rights of foreign workers.
Beginning in the 1980s, my activity involved volunteering with the "Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain”, which is considered a wing of one of the opposition political groups. It shifted at the beginning of the nineties into working completely independently through the founding of "The Bahrain Human Rights Organization", which played a fundamental and decisive role in bringing Bahrain out of the era of security of the State, through its activities in Western capitals in collaboration with the United Nations and international human rights organizations.
I am honored to have gained then my second nationality when I became a political refugee in the Kingdom of Denmark, which ensured my freedom, dignity and shelter when I was facing persecution in my country of Bahrain. However, I never hesitated in returning to Bahrain in 2001 when I was allowed to, and there I continued carrying out my duty in education and training on human rights issues in Bahrain and abroad, assisting victims of violations to embark on a peaceful movement to demand their rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting human rights violations.
As a result, the price I have been paying throughout the past ten years was facing physical assaults by security forces, arrest, detention, unfair trials, smear campaigns, and travel bans. This was the case even during the period from November 2008 to February 2011, during which I worked as a regional coordinator for Frontline Defenders, a leading international organization --- based in Dublin and Brussels --- which focuses on the protection of human rights defenders all over the world. The fact that I have resigned from my post as president of "The Bahrain Center for Human Rights" before undertaking my work at the international organization --- which was not relevant to the situation of human rights in Bahrain --- did not make any difference. An overwhelming spirit of revenge was motivating those who have been targeted by my previous activity due to their responsibility in relation to the perpetration of violations through their positions as security and political officials, as well as their suspecting that --- under cover --- I have been using my international work to provide aid to local activists in Bahrain.
Then came the events of February 14th, and the subsequent declaration of a state of national safety to make it the right opportunity for revenge. After witnessing all those dead and injured in the first few days, I decided to resign from my international post and to dedicate myself to full-time voluntary work in Bahrain to contribute to the popular peaceful movement and ensure its effectiveness in attaining rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting violations that occurred during the events. To these ends I took part in seminars, delivered speeches and participated in various meetings that were attended by representatives of political associations and groups, including political and civil rights activists, and jurists, in my capacity as an independent human rights defender. Those meetings were held at the headquarters of political associations and residents of political figures. They were not secret and did not intend to establish new groups or create working plan', they were merely a platform for consultation and exchange of opinions in the midst of escalating and serious events.
It was soon the time for retaliation. On April 8th 2011 --- three weeks after declaring the state of national safety and granting the military and security services authorization to kill and use excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture, which led in some cases to death --- while I was spending the weekend with my wife, daughters and sons in law, heavily armed forces surrounded the building where my two married daughters live.
Without warning or warrant, they broke into the building and knocked down the door of the third-floor apartment, then a group of masked security men started beating and kicking me in all parts of my body while dragging me down the stairs. In addition, my hands were cuffed back and my eyes were blindfolded before putting me in one of the cars, when I received a severe blow on the left side of my face with a metal object. This caused me to fall on the ground while severely bleeding, due to deep cuts close to the left eye and a number of fractures in the jaw, cheek and nose, prompting them to transfer me..to the military hospital where I received stitches and underwent a complex surgery to address bone fractures. X-ray images show about 18 plates and about 40 screws that were used to join fractures.
I stayed at the military hospital for six days, during which I was kept blindfolded and handcuffed to the bed in a painful manner that prevents me from moving. A group of people would come over each night and verbally abuse me and touch my private parts. I was told that they had arrested my daughter Zainab, and after they had done what they wanted with her they had transferred her to a prison in Saudi Arabia. One of them informed me that he was the one who had given me the blow to the face and that there was “more where that came from” after I was moved from the hospital. He also told me that a large man will be waiting to rape me. Instead of a recovery period of three weeks at the hospital, I was transferred on the sixth day to a distant place where I learned about two months later that it is Al-Qareen military prison.
In Al Qareen, I was put in a dark solitary cell for about two months. All guards and nurses were masked. I did not have any contact with the outside world, nor was I allowed to go out in the sun and fresh air. I only had a sponge in the cell, as well as very dirty pillow and blanket. I was only allowed to take a bath after ten days. My head and body bore bruises and bloodstains.
During that period, I was unable to eat anything except for liquids through a tube, and I received medications pertaining to the surgery I had and the resulting pain. Despite that, starting from the second day of my stay in prison night doses of torture began.