Maryam AlKhawaja Bahrain Human Rights

Bahraini Human Rights Defender


From a family with a long tradition of human rights activism, Maryam Al-Khawaja is a leading voice for citizenship rights and political reform in Bahrain and the Gulf region.

In 2012 Maryam was the recipient of the Stieg Larsson Prize for her work to promote democracy and human rights. That same year, the Al-Khawaja family were awarded the Freedom House Award and The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which Maryam was running, was presented with the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty.

Maryam is currently the Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. Prior to that, she served as the Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights until July 2014 when the organisation’s President, Nabeel Rajab, was released from prison.

Al-Khawaja played an instrumental role in the democratic protests taking place in Bahrain. She was one of the human rights defenders who participated in and documented the well-known pro-democracy demonstrations that took place around Manama’s Pearl Roundabout in February 2011, and who spoke out about what was going on from the ground. The Bahraini government responded to these peaceful popular protests with a violent sectarian campaign of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, systematic torture and mass sacking.

In August 2014, Al-Khawaja, who was living in Copenhagen at the time, made a trip back to Bahrain to visit her jailed father, who was in prison for his pro-democracy activism and on a life-threatening hunger strike. She was assaulted and detained upon arrival for 19 days. She was subsequently released and left Bahrain, following an international campaign demanding her freedom.

Maryam has not returned to Bahrain since and on December 1st 2014 she was sentenced in absentia on the trumped-up charge of assaulting two of the policewomen who assaulted her. She currently has 11 cases against her, many include tweeting and insulting the king.

Despite living abroad, Al-Khawaja is still very connected to events in her country. Through her engagement with American and European policy makers, she remains influential in shaping the narrative about events in Bahrain.

BASED IN: Copenhagen, London, Bahrain
LANGUAGES: English and Arabic.

The Guardian October 2014
The Guardian, October 2012