Bahrain not allowing activist's toddler out of jail: rights group

Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja visits a cafe near the Bahrain court building on Sept 6, 2014.
Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja visits a cafe near the Bahrain court building on Sept 6, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (AFP) - Bahraini authorities have turned down a request by the family of a jailed female opposition activist to allow her toddler out of prison, a rights group said Monday.

Shiite mother Zainab al-Khawaja was jailed in March after being convicted of insulting the country's King Hamad by ripping a photograph of him, and she chose at the time to keep her son with her in jail.

But Khawaja informed her family on Sunday that "she had fallen ill with the flu and was unable to take care of her 17-month-old son Abdulhadi", said the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

"She also feared that Abdulhadi would catch her sickness," it said.

Her husband had asked to take his son out but was told by the jail's administration that "the baby could not leave the prison, regardless of Al-Khawaja's health situation".

Her mother, Khadija al-Mousawi, said she was denied entry to the prison to take care of the child.

"It has become clear to me that my grandson Abdulhadi is no longer only accompanying Zainab in prison, but rather a prisoner himself," said Mousawi, quoted by GCHR, which is co-directed by the activist's sister living in Europe and is vocal in criticising Bahraini authorities.

There was no immediate comment on the report from Bahraini authorities.

Bahrain's foreign ministry pledged earlier this month that Khawaja would be released for "humanitarian" reasons.

Another foreign female inmate, whose nationality was not revealed, will also be released along with her four-year-old son, the ministry said on May 9.

Zainab, who was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2014, is the daughter of prominent rights activists Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and also holds Danish nationality.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said during a press briefing last month with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry that Khawaja would go home.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, home base of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided after authorities crushed a month-old, Shiite-led uprising that called for reforms in March 2011.