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Bahraini human rights activist re-arrested after ripping king's photo in court

Zainab Alkhawaja is the latest in a line of arrests of prominent Bahraini campaigners
Alkhawaja's arrest comes a month before elections are set to take place in the Gulf country (Prachatai/Flickr)
Zainab Alkhawaja, sister of Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja and daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was arrested in a Bahrain courtroom on Tuesday for tearing up a photograph of the King - while on trial for ripping up another photo of the king in 2012.
 
In recent years, the 30-year-old has been arrested and released repeatedly, according to her family. There are numerous outstanding charges against her which carry a number of potential jail sentences. Bahraini human rights advocates have said the charges against Alkhawaja are politically motivated and related to her activism, and have called for the immediate dismissal of the charges against her.
 
Tuesday's court hearing in Manama focused on an incident 18 months ago in which Alkhawaja ripped up a photo of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. 
 
In court, she is reported to have said, “I am the daughter of a proud and free man. My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors."
 
She then proceeded to tear up a second photo of Al-Khalifa in front of the court, placed it in front of the judge and was arrested on the spot as the courtroom was cleared, according to an account from the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

She was then taken to Alhoora police station. Currently almost nine months pregnant, Alkhawaja could "give birth at any time," according to the Gulf Center.
On Wednesday, her sister, Maryam Alkhawaja, tweeted that Zainab was being detained for seven days as a result of insulting the king, but it was unclear to which incident the detention was linked.
 
Speaking at a press conference in London earlier on Wednesday, Maryam – who is also co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights – condemned her arrest as a means of silencing and discrediting non-violent activists in the Gulf.
 
“I think that’s one of the biggest threats that we face in the region. Why is it that we’re seeing so much violence increase in different countries around the Middle East and North Africa today?” she told the conference. “It’s because people have no space to do non-violent activism and the people who preach non-violent activism as the only methodology are quickly silenced by the regimes.”
 
Maryam also criticised the lack of coverage of Zainab’s arrest.
 
“The first time she was arrested there was a huge fuss about her arrest and she was released,” she said. “So what the Bahrain government did was they kept releasing her, arresting her, releasing her, arresting her, until the media lost interest in the case.”
 
Now, said Maryam, when she gets arrested, "you barely see any media attention on the case".
 
Abdelhadi Alkhawaja, the father of Maryam and Zainab, has been in prison since his arrest for taking part in the Arab Spring protests in February 2011. He recently took part in a hunger strike while in prison which eventually ended as a result of the pressures put on other imprisoned activists, many of whom have been arrested since the beginning of Bahrain's pro-democracy protests in 2011.
 
“The latest hunger strike took a pretty heavy toll on his health," Maryam said at the press conference. "He now has astigmatism in one of his eyes.”
 
She said her father also requires an operation on his face after security services allegedly attacked him and broke his jaw in five places.
 
"They’re telling him that the only way they’ll do that operation is if he does it at the Bahrain Defence Force hospital where he was tortured previously, so he's refusing to go there," said Maryam.
 
In September, Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested after returning to Bahrain and now faces a charge of "insulting a public institution.”
 
The Bahrain government has repeatedly condemned anti-government activists in Bahrain as Iran-supported Shia Islamist partisans. Both Abdulhadi Alkhwaja and Nabeel Rajab have been suspected of involvement with the Shiite Islamist Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.
 
Bahrain has been in the grip of an uprising since hundreds of thousands of people, mostly members of the majority Shiite community, protested in the capital Manama in February 2011.
 
Three days after demonstrations began at the Pearl Roundabout government forces broke up protests camps with teargas, birdshot and batons that left at least two dead and hundreds injured.
 
Since then activists say around 100 protesters have died in the unrest, although the government disputes these figures and says at least 14 police officers have been killed in attacks on their forces.
“insulting a public institution.”