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Bahraini anti-government protesters raise signs with images of jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja Friday, April 6, 2012, in Jidhafs, Bahrain. © 2012 AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

(Beirut) – The Danish government should renew and strengthen efforts to secure the immediate and unconditional release of a prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, 118 international and Bahraini rights groups said today in a joint letter to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. The rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 59, is serving a life sentence in Bahrain’s Jau prison for his peaceful political and human rights activities, in violation of his right to freedom of expression.

Khawaja was arrested on April 9, 2011, for his role in organizing protests seeking political reform during the pro-democracy popular movement that began in February 2011. Security forces violently arrested Al-Khawaja and subjected him to additional severe physical, psychological, and sexual torture in detention. Al-Khawaja was sentenced in June 2011, following unfair trials in courts that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or international fair trial standards.

“There is no doubt that the conviction and sentencing of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was unfair and oppressive and tried to silence his prominent voice demanding the rights of Bahrainis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Al-Khawaja should not have had to spend a single minute behind bars, yet he has been unjustly detained for almost a decade.”

Al-Khawaja, an internationally recognized human rights defender, is the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), of which he is also the former president. He had worked as the Middle East and North Africa protection coordinator for Front Line Defenders from 2008 until early 2011.

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