Cablegate: King Issues Decree Ordering Release of Human
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS MANAMA 001744
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARPI
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM KJUS BA
SUBJECT: KING ISSUES DECREE ORDERING RELEASE OF HUMAN
RIGHTS ACTIVIST FOLLOWING HIS CONVICTION
REF: A. MANAMA 1658
B. MANAMA 1503
C. MANAMA 1489
D. MANAMA 1482
Sensitive but unclassified (deliberative process); please
protect accordingly. Not for Internet distribution.
1. (SBU) On November 21, activist and former Executive
Director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Abdul
Hadi Al Khawaja was convicted and sentenced to one year in
prison and ordered to begin serving the term immediately. He
had been charged with violating Article 165 (public
incitement against the regime) and Article 168 (spreading
rumors that could disrupt national security) of the penal
code. In reading the verdict, the judge did not specify
under what article(s) Al Khawaja was found guilty. Al
Khawaja and his family members had refused to attend the
hearing. Approximately 10 people were inside the courtroom
including Cairo-based Amnesty International representative
Joanna Oyediran and journalists from BBC Arabic, AP, and
Reuters. The court rejected defense lawyers' claims that the
charges against Al Khawaja were unconstitutional. Outside
the courtroom, a passionate crowd of 300 Al Khawaja
supporters gathered with signs and called on Prime Minister
Khalifa to resign. They chanted inflammatory slogans
including "Die Khalifa" and "The People Don't Want You."
Court guards were the only security officials present and
made no attempt to interfere with the crowd.
2. (SBU) Later the same day, at about 6:00 PM, the King
issued a decree limiting the imprisonment to the 57 days
already served and ordered Al Khawaja's immediate release.
Photographs of him in a car with his wife on their way home
appeared in local newspapers. Though many media outlets
called the King's decree a pardon, legally it was a
suspension of the remainder of the sentence. The King also
ordered the release of 13 detainees still being held in
connection with the October 28 "car parade" in support of Al
Khawaja (Ref A).
3. (SBU) Political and human rights activists welcomed the
King's gesture and some described it as evidence of the top
leadership's desire to continue its democratic reforms.
However, many expressed dismay that Al Khawaja was imprisoned
and put on trial in the first place. BCHR President Nabeel
Rajab told PolFSN that the King's handling of the matter sent
a strong message that although he had forgiven Al Khawaja, he
would not tolerate criticism of his family. Representatives
of several human rights organizations said they would push
for changes in the penal code to remove Article 156, which
criminalizes criticism of the royal family. Some activists
(unrelated to the Committee in Support of Al Khawaja, which
had suspended its activities) planned an evening
demonstration in the suburb of Budaiya against Al Khawaja's
conviction and sentence, but canceled the event at the last
minute upon learning of the King's decree.
4. (SBU) Comment: The sentencing of Al Khawaja to a year in
prison and the King's subsequent pardon demonstrate the mixed
nature of the GOB's path towards a more democratic system.
Al Khawaja's arrest and imprisonment were a warning to
activists not to push the envelope too far, but the King's
pardon showed that he can respond to their concerns when he
believes it appropriate. Some human rights advocates are now
looking to the next step: finding a way to re-open the
Bahrain Center for Human Rights.