Jailed Bahraini activist among rights defenders to win top award

Jailed Bahraini activist among rights defenders to win top award
2 min read
Bahraini democracy campaigner Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja - jailed - was recognised by the Martin Ennals Award, named after the first secretary general of Amnesty International.
Al-Khawaja was an early architect of the human rights movement in Bahrain and a leader of the movement for greater freedom and democracy in the wider Gulf region [Getty]

Campaigners from Vietnam, Bahrain and Burkina Faso on Wednesday shared one of the world's most prestigious human rights prize, which lauded their courage as "galvanisers".

Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang, Bahraini democracy campaigner Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja - both jailed - and Daouda Diallo, who documents abuses in Burkina Faso, were recognised by the Martin Ennals Award, named after the first secretary general of Amnesty International.

"The jury nominated three galvanisers of the human rights movement; courage is the connecting dot between them," said jury chair Hans Thoolen.

Pham Doan Trang, a prominent Vietnamese author, who works for press freedom and civil rights, was arrested in October 2020 and there are growing concerns for her health.

She "has been a galvaniser for many other activists and journalists in Vietnam where freedom of expression is considered a threat," said jury panelist Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

Al-Khawaja was an early architect of the human rights movement in Bahrain and a leader of the movement for greater freedom and democracy in the wider Gulf region. He was jailed in 2011 and has since organised hunger strikes to secure the rights of detainees.

He was "handed a life sentence for organising peaceful protests, urging authorities to respect human rights... his determination, courage and resilience are moving," said the jury's Guadalupe Marengo, of Amnesty International.

Threats from all sides

Diallo, a pharmacist turned campaigner, documents rights violations in a country rocked by violent crossfires between conflicting forces.

"Dr Diallo challenges the rampant impunity for human rights abuses committed by Islamist groups, state security forces, and paramilitary groups while facing threats from all of them," said jury member Silke Pfeiffer.

Last year's winner was imprisoned Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng, who worked on high-profile rights cases and advocated to abolish the death penalty.

The Martin Ennals Foundation first gave the annual Geenva-based award for rights defenders in 1994.

The jury comprises representatives from 10 leading human rights organisations.

The laureates each receive 20,000 to 30,000 Swiss francs ($21,830-$32,750, 19,250-28,880 euros).

It is the first time the prize has been shared among three finalists, and the ceremony will be held in person in Geneva on June 2.