TUE 26 - 10 - 2021
Date: May 9, 2013
Source: nowlebanon.com
Maryam al-Khawaja on her forgotten revolution
Rayan Majed

“My father, Bahraini human rights activist Abdel Hadi Khawaja, was arrested on April 9, 2011. Bahraini security forces raided my sister’s house at 3 a.m.: they broke the door and took him by force along with two of my brothers-in-law, one of whom remained under arrest for six months and the other for about a year, during which time they were all tortured. My father was also tortured at the hospital where he was receiving treatment and received a life sentence, and all of that was for raising people’s awareness on the principles of human rights and the means of non-violent struggle.”
NOW met in Beirut with Bahraini activist and chargé d’affaires of the presidency of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Maryam al-Khawaja, who recounted the ordeal her family has suffered in Bahrain. Security forces also arrested her sister Zeinab al-Khawaja, a peaceful activist who stood in front of a police Jeep on a Bahraini street and protested alone to demand the release of political prisoners. Zeinab is still in prison and is prevented from seeing her three-year-old daughter Jude. Maryam says that “Jude is used to members of her family disappearing. At first, her grandfather with whom she has a special relationship disappeared along with her father, then her mother. My mother was sacked from her job as the head of the guidance and counseling department at a Bahraini school. My younger sister Batoul, who studied nursing in college, cannot find work at the governmental hospital even though she was a top student because they refused to give her the official papers required for her to be able to find employment.”
For Maryam al-Khawaja, who now lives in Denmark and holds Danish nationality, her family is paying the price for demanding freedom and being attached to human rights, and epitomizes what is happening to opposition supporters in Bahrain: “There is a media blackout regarding the ongoing violations of opposition activists’ rights and the torture to which they are subjected in Bahraini prisons. We got international interest because we hold Danish nationality, but thousands of people are being subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual violence while no one cares for their suffering.”
Maryam and her family hold the Danish nationality as they went to Denmark as political refugees after the Bahraini government condemned them to exile: “My father and mother were exiled from Bahrain in 1961 because of their political activity and their struggle for rights as part of the opposition to the government. They first went to Syria and I was born in Damascus, as were two of my sisters. We then went to Denmark and returned to Bahrain in 1999, the year in which Bahraini Emir Issa al-Khalifa died and his son Hmaad al-Khalifa came to power. The new Bahraini emir, at the time, made promises about political reforms, granting parliament true legislative and control competences, releasing political prisoners and allowing exiles to return home and recover their Bahraini nationality.”
The emir acted on some of his promises. In 2002, Bahrain became a kingdom and Prince Hamas became its king. “However, all competences moved to the king. The cabinet has been chaired by the king’s uncle for the past 43 years and parliament is a formal body with no competences whatsoever.”
Khawaja describes the period since Hamad al-Khalifa took power in 2010 as relatively calm. Protests and ‘uprisings’ that have been erupting in Bahrain since 1920, the latest of which was in 1990, decreased a lot. “Yet the ruling family’s grip over the economy and politics grew in intensity and corruption spread against a backdrop of methodical discrimination against the Shiites, which represent about 65% of the population and are banned from certain jobs and from living in certain areas due to their sectarian affiliation.”
2010 saw the resumption of the wave of arrests and “methodical torture” against political prisoners. “We have documented 500 cases of torture against members of the opposition to the regime. Twenty-three percent of political prisoners are children under 16 years of age who are kidnapped from opposition regions and tortured. Some of them are thrown out in the streets while others are forced to work as informants.”
According to al-Khawaja, the main change that occurred during that year pertained to the king’s stance on the arrests and violations committed at the time. “Usually during the previous years, the prime minister was blamed and held responsible for what was going on. The kind appeared on every Eid and pardoned all political prisoners, but in 2010 he voiced his support for the exactions committed against activists.”
These exactions and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were the main engine that spurred demonstrations in Bahrain in early 2011. “The slogans shouted early on called for amending the constitution, initiating reforms and releasing prisoners. When these rightful demands were countered with violence and bullets, the protesters started calling for binging down the regime. The more violence the regime used in repressing the protesters, the more radicalized the demands became against a backdrop of broadening protests. Peninsula Shied Force members then intervened to silence the revolution.”
According to regular Human Rights Watch reports, more and more people are being arrested with many being sacked from their jobs. Many students have dismissed from their schools and colleges and the repression extends to doctors, teachers, and engineers. Pearl Square was destroyed to ban people from gathering and staging sit-ins. “The regime also used sectarianism as a weapon to quell the revolution by sending out a message to Sunni political forces whereby the problem lies with the Iran-linked Shiite opposition. Every Shiite opposition supporter was subjected to more beating and humiliation at security roadblocks, on TV and in newspapers, not to mention personal insults.”
Maryam has travelled a lot since 2011 and returns to Bahrain often to see the sadness and frustration gripping people against a backdrop of worsening sectarianism and ongoing protests. “People say with sadness: How can our brothers remain silent on what we are going through?” Maryam goes on to say that the regime has emphasized sectarian division among the people by publishing pictures of protesters via Twitter and Facebook and calling on whomever knows them to report them to the authorities. “Some people filed reports against their friends and colleagues. Furthermore, the media blackout against our revolution and the fact that [everyone] is ignoring our woes makes opposition supporters feel alone. Some have increasingly taken to follow Iranian satellite channels because they are the only ones covering the revolution, even if in a distorted manner.”
Maryam says that watching these channels, the Bahraini regime’s exactions, and its support for the Syrian revolution have impacted negatively on the relation between part of the Bahraini opposition and the Syrian revolution. “My sister Zeinab tells me that they used to prepare banners in the early days of the revolution and wrote on them slogans to brandish during protests in keeping with Syrian revolution chants. However, watching Al-Alam TV, the impact of its coverage of the events in Syria, and the fact that the Bahraini regime brazenly flew the Syrian revolution flag even as it repressed protesters made part of the opposition grow increasingly radicalized and sectarian.”
Maryam says she is extremely saddened by the ongoing events in Syria, for the Syrian people are left alone with no one supporting its uprising against tyranny, injustice, humiliation, and despotism. She says she will return to Bahrain soon and that she is not afraid of being arrested: “What we are doing is the least we can offer for the same of freedom and democracy in our country.”

This article is a translation of the original Arabic 

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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