April 26, 2012

Washington, DC – Human Rights First announced today that it will award the 2012 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental advocacy organization that promotes democracy and human rights in Bahrain. The award will be presented at a ceremony in the United States later this year. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has been prominent in documenting and publicizing human rights violations during the government crackdown over the last year, often at great risk to its members and supporters.

“We are honored to be able to recognize the excellent work and the principled and courageous activism of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights,” said Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First. Human Rights First board member and Chairwoman of the Baldwin Jury Roberta Karp noted, “The caliber of nominees this year was incredibly high, which made the decision really tough. There are so many human rights defenders doing amazing work in many parts of the world, but I am delighted that the Medal of Liberty will be presented to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which continues to promote human rights under constant threat to the security of its members.” The call for nominations this year produced an impressive response with more than 40 nominations of individuals and organizations in 27 countries.

“We are delighted to be recognized with this prestigious award and to be associated with Human Rights First and the values of Roger Baldwin. It is an impressive show of support for our struggle for human rights in Bahrain. As human rights defenders we appreciate such international attention – we all at BCHR thank you,” said Nabeel Rajab, President of the BCHR.

The Medal of Liberty is named in honor of Roger Baldwin, principal founder of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the International League for Human Rights. The award was established in 1989 and is presented in alternating years by Human Rights First, which awards international human rights advocates, and the ACLU, which awards advocates in the United States. The award carries a $25,000 prize.

The 2012 Baldwin Jury was composed of prominent activists and members of the business and legal communities, including Aryeh Neier, Diana Daniels, Michael Greco, Mark Bromley, Joanne Johnson, Roberta Karp, Judith McHale, and Ahmed Salah.

BCHR was founded in 2002. The organization was outlawed by the Bahraini government in 2004 after its then-president Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was arrested for criticizing the Prime Minister of Bahrain. Alkhawaja was arrested again last year and sentenced to life in prison in an unfair military trial for his part in the pro-democracy protests last year. He has been on a hunger strike since February 8, 2012. Despite not being formally recognized by the government, BCHR continues to advocate for basic freedoms and rights, combat discrimination, and provide support and protection for victims of government repression.

On February 14, 2011, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrainis took to the streets to demand democratic reform. The democracy movement was met with a violent crackdown by the Bahraini government. Dozens have been killed and thousands more imprisoned and tortured. Pro-democracy protests in Bahrain are—per capita—among the Arab Spring’s largest uprisings. In an effort to maintain control, the Bahraini government has responded with excessive force and international propaganda. In response to that crackdown, in October 2011, Members of Congress put the brakes on a proposed $53 million arms sale from the U.S. to Bahrain after BCHR provided reports to Congressional staff.

Human Rights First applauds BCHR’s committed leadership and exemplary human rights advocacy in increasingly difficult circumstances and congratulates the organization on receiving the 2012 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty.

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