In divided Bahrain, students pay price for protests
By Erika Solomon MANAMA | Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:22am EDT reuters.com
(Reuters) - As the summer heat sets in, most university students in Bahrain are eagerly looking forward to getting out of class. But 19 year-old Mohammed and his friends are struggling to get back in.
Local rights groups say over 400 mostly Shi'ite students have been expelled from Bahraini universities in recent months, charged with participating in the "unauthorized protests" which shook the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year. Mohammed, a second year student at Bahrain University, described a string of student dismissals since March, in which officials used protesters' own Facebook postings and YouTube videos against them to identify students who joined demonstrations or criticized the government online.
"There is an aggressive with-us-or-against-us mentality," he said, declining to give his full name for fear of further government reprisals. "If you went out to the streets to ask for your rights, now you must be punished."
School officials say students crossed a red line by calling for the fall of the government on school grounds. Students insist many of them only protested off-campus, and warn the punishments have increased pent-up anger that could erupt again.
The Sunni rulers of Bahrain, home port to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, quashed weeks of protests led mostly by the country's Shi'ite majority during a March crackdown that also has seen up to 2,000 workers sacked and hundreds arrested.
Bahrain said the protests had a sectarian agenda with backing from Shi'ite power Iran, which the opposition denies.
The education ministry has said students can apply to other schools, but they have complained they were unable to get copies of their transcripts. They were also convinced no other local university would take on students expelled for protests.
Some, under a travel ban for political activities, cannot study abroad. Others are too afraid to leave.
"The situation is very bad. Some of us have parents who were sacked. What if the other parent gets sacked? We have to save everything we have," said 21-year-old Sayed.
Like other students, he met Reuters at a deserted shopping mall out of fear of speaking out. Sayed was less than a semester from graduating when he was dismissed in March.
Mohammed fears arrest if he applies for a job and is discovered to be an expelled student protester. Instead, he spends afternoons driving through Shi'ite villages looking for protests and networking with activists by mobile phone.
"I don't have class, I don't have work. So I work for the revolution. They stole my rights, my future, I will fight back," he said. "I have nothing to lose."
Tensions have been high since the crackdown and protests have occurred daily since the government lifted an emergency law on June 1. A national dialogue for reforms, planned to start on July 2, has fallen on deaf ears among younger and increasingly hardline Shi'ite youths.
Across town, 20 year-old Asma Darwish, one of some 40 students expelled from Bahrain Polytechnic last week, has devoted her time to looking for scholarships and activism.
"They have a bunch of smart young people sitting at home with nothing to do. It will ruin the country," said Darwish, her black veil and abaya hanging from a slim frame, frail from finishing a nine-day hunger strike over her brother's detention.
Days after police escorted her off campus, she was briefly arrested for staging a small sit-in at a United Nations office.
Some students face worse sanctions: One woman, who was afraid to give her name, said she was jailed for a month the night after she admitted at a school questioning that she was active at protests.
She said she was beaten with sticks and electric rods in detention, and threatened with rape. The government has denied systematic abuse and said any incidents will be investigated.
"I had never considered myself an activist, I just wanted a better life," she said. "I'm stronger now. I learned what politics are, that we have rights and should speak up for them."
The University of Bahrain's dean of student affairs defended the dismissals, saying students would be able to appeal, and that those punished clearly broke school rules.
"They disrupted the educational environment with unauthorized protests... if they raised slogans against the regime, that's an additional violation," said Adnan al-Tamimi.
The University of Bahrain now also requires its students to sign a loyalty pledge to Bahrain and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The pledge says those who do not sign are giving up their right to university study, and those who break the pledge can be expelled.
University officials said the pledge was not new, but signatures are now required to ensure students know the rules.
One employee, who defended the dismissals, said even he was disturbed by the mood on campus in recent months, where white stickers with bold black letters have been plastered all over the walls: "God will not pardon what has passed."
Not only Bahraini, but Saudi and UAE flags flutter in doorways -- a tribute to the troops from neighboring Sunni Gulf countries that came in to back Bahrain's government during its crackdown.
"You can't say anything, or they will accuse you of being against the government," the employee whispered. "It worries me, they seem to forget: One day you are on top, the next on the bottom. No government lasts forever."
(Editing by Paul Casciato) Photo: Noor Alderazi
RSF: Disturbing Wave Of Prosecutions On Eve Of National Dialogue
30 JUNE 2011
Reporters Without Borders accuses the authorities of continuing to crack down on journalists and media freedom in violation of the spirit for the national dialogue that King Hamad Ben Issa Al-Khalifa wants to begin tomorrow with the aim of relaunching political reforms after the unrest that began last March and the ensuing repression.
Journalists and media are still being prosecuted before military courts, although the state of emergency was lifted on 1 June. The authorities are also maintaining strict control over the circulation of news and information and are pumping out propaganda aimed at both Bahraini and foreign media.
Reporters Without Borders calls for a response from the international community that includes the dispatch of a United Nations special rapporteur to Bahrain.
Bahrain Society of Photography president Mohamed Salman Al-Sheikh, a freelance photographer who was arrested on 11 May, was brought before a military court in Riffa, the second largest city, on 28 June. His family was not told about at the hearing and therefore was unable to organize his defence. No information has been released about the charges being pressed against this journalist, who has won many international awards.
Abbas Al-Murshid, a freelance journalist and writer who was arrested on 16 May, was brought before a judge on 27 June and was told that he was charged with participating in illegal demonstrations, disseminating false information on online forums and inciting hatred against the government. His request to be freed on bail was denied. Security officers present in the courtroom refused to let his wife and lawyer talk to him although the judge had given his permission. He is to be tried by court martial on 7 July.
Abdullah Alawi and Jassem Al-Sabbagh, two journalists who were arrested after being forced to resign from the newspaper Al-Bilad, are being prosecuted on charges of publishing false information and photos, and participating in illegal demonstrations. The second hearing in their trial was held on 23 June.
As already reported, a military court imposed jail sentences on 22 June on 21 people accused of belonging to terrorist organizations and trying to overthrow the government. Eight of them, including the human rights activist and blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace, were given life sentences. The other 13 got sentences ranging from two to 15 years in prison. The blogger Ali Abdulemam, who was tried in absentia, got 15 years (< a href="http://en.rsf.org/bahrain-one-blogger-sentenced-to-life-22-06-2011,40507.html">http://en.rsf.org/bahrain-one-blogg...).
The authorities are keeping reporting about the ongoing trials under strict control, maintaining a ban on coverage of national security cases. The government news agency BNA publishes a daily summary of some of the ongoing trials, but trials involving any journalists other than those with Al-Wasat are usually ignored.
The authorities announced on 14 June that they were going to bring a lawsuit against British journalist Robert Fisk, the London-based Independent’s Middle East correspondent, in the United Kingdom for waging a “defamatory and premeditated media campaign” against Bahrain and for alleged bias and unprofessionalism in his coverage of recent events.
Fisk has repeatedly criticized the trials of doctors and nurses accused of supporting the anti-government protests. He also reported that Saudi military forces invaded Bahrain without waiting for an invitation from the Bahraini authorities.
Reporters Without Borders hails the release of Faysal Hayyat, a sports journalist who was arrested on 8 April, although he is still facing charges of “sports crimes.” A military prosecutor issued a statement saying he would be tried according to established legal procedures. No trial date has so far been announced.
The blogger Ali Omid has also been released but seven other netizens and eight journalists, including three photographers, continue to be detained.
The Observatory: Slandering campaign against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja
30 June 2011
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the slandering campaign launched against Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja, Head of the Office of Foreign Relations at the BCHR and daughter of the prominent human rights activist Mr. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.
Description of the situation :
According to the information received, an anonymous defamatory campaign against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja was launched in early May 2011, with the active and passive support of the Bahraini authorities. A print document entitled “Crimes never reported by Nabeel Rajab & blessed by AMNESTY Int.” accuses Mr. Rajab and Ms. Al Khawaja of having committed 27 crimes and grave violations, including forced disappearance, torture, and murder against civilians and members of the Bahraini security forces. The author of the document is anonymous. The document comprises a series of pictures allegedly evidencing the crimes committed by Mr. Rajab, and associates on every page the images of dead or individuals with the close-up picture of Mr. Rajab, implicitly targeting him as the sole perpetrator of these 27 crimes. This document would also have been distributed in print by Bahraini authorities during meetings abroad. In addition, a video was also published and disseminated on the Web via the social network Youtube, conveying similar evidence of the alleged crimes.
The Observatory condemns this slandering campaign, which merely seems to aim at discrediting the human rights activities of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja. Furthermore, the Observatory is deeply concerned that this campaign is fuelling, among the public opinion, hostility towards human rights defenders and organisations monitoring human rights violations.
The Observatory recalls that during the past months Mr. Rajab has been victim of other acts of reprisals, including slandering campaigns, physical assaults and threats of judicial harassment.
Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja, and all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
ii. Put an end to the slandering campaign and provide appropriate compensation for the harm done to the public image of both Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja.
iii. Order an immediate, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned campaign and identify all those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
iv. Stop all acts of harassment against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja, as well as all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, Article 11, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession”, Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.
· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA, King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587
· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; fax: +973 172 12 6032
· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; fax: +973 175 31 284
· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: email@example.com
Paris-Geneva, June 30, 2011
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
Amnesty International: Bahrain: Investigation into rights abuses welcomed
30 June 2011 An independent commission set up by the King of Bahrain to investigate alleged human rights abuses during recent protests in the country is a significant step forward but must lead to justice for the victims, Amnesty International said today.
The five member investigation panel comprises individuals of internationally-recognized independence, integrity and expertise. It is expected to report on its findings in October. The commission will be chaired by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who has led UN investigations into alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Libya. The four other members are Sir Nigel Rodley, a former staff member of Amnesty International, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and currently a member of the UN Human Rights Committee; Justice Philippe Kirsch, a former judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC); Dr Mahnoush Arsanjani, a former UN legal advisor; and Dr Badria al ‘Awadhi, an expert on international and Sharia law at the Freedom House Foundation in Washington D.C.
“This is certainly an impressive line-up of independent international experts,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme. “Moreover, the terms of the King’s decree make clear that they will have the authority to carry out a full investigation into the widespread human rights violations allegedly committed by government forces when they crushed the February and March protests and in their aftermath.”
According to the Royal Decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Bassiouni inquiry will have access to officials and official documents. The committee members,will be able to interview alleged torture victims and others in confidence, and to make recommendations for further action by the King and the Bahraini authorities.
“The appointment of this international commission appears to represent nothing less than a sea change in Bahrain,” said Malcolm Smart. “Until now, the government has signally failed to rein in its security forces, investigate torture allegations and ensure accountability, while using special military courts to prosecute its critics. This now appears to be changing, and not a day too soon.”
“However, it also needs to lead to accountability, justice and reparations for all those whose rights have been violated. Whether or not the government delivers that will be the true test,” he added.
In another landmark move, the King also announced that all military court trials connected with the February-March protests will be moved to civilian courts. Those already sentenced will also have their cases reviewed by civilian courts.”
“This too is a very welcome, if overdue step. Civilians should never be tried before military courts and if this now spells the end of the National Safety Court, so much the better for Bahrain,” said Malcolm Smart. “That court has been a travesty of justice and a stain on the Bahraini authorities’ claim to uphold the rule of law. It will not be missed.”
All those facing trial or sentenced solely for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression should be released immediately,” Malcolm Smart said.
At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.
Bahrain Further Restricts Migrant Rights while Publicly Expressing Concern for Migrants
June 29th, 2011 Published on www.migrant-rights.org
During the days of protests in Bahrain, pro-regime media outlets covered extensively the xenophobic attacks attributed to opposition elements against migrant workers in Bahrain. Pro-regime outlets used the attacks on south-Asian workers in an attempt to present the oppressed protesters as the violent oppressors instead of the regime (which killed 31 protesters to date, while jailing and torturing thousands more). The hypocrisy of using the attacks on migrants for political gain is all the more evident considering Bahrain’s poor track-record when it comes to migrant rights, which has only worsened since the February protests. While criticizing the opposition for the attacks on migrants, in recent weeks the Bahraini regime had issued several anti-migrant resolutions.
Between two to eight south-Asian migrant workers have been killed in the weeks of protests in Bahrain, according to media reports. The brutal repression of the Bahraini peaceful protests was carried out by the Bahraini riot police, which is made up of mostly Sunni Muslims from south-Asian countries. The Shia of Bahrain, on the other hand, are barred from employment in the security forces, as they are seen as not loyal enough to the Al Khalifa regime. One of the grievances of the mostly-Shia protesters in Bahrain is the naturalization of foreign Sunnis, a policy intended to skew the demographic balance against the Shia majority. The xenophobic attacks on innocent migrant workers, which were condemned by opposition figures and NGOs, were also a result of government policy to force migrants to protest on behalf of the regime.
The sudden concern about migrant rights manifested not only in criticism of the opposition for their supposed lack of care of migrants. In order to bolster the credibility of this sudden interest in the welfare of the majority of Bahrain’s inhabitants, the Foreign Minister Khaled Al Khalifa paid visits to expatriate clubs and embassies, Bahraini TV began broadcasting news bulletins in languages spoken by migrants in Bahrain, and expats were even invited to the National Dialog.
While the regime publicly expresses its concern about rights of migrant workers, it has quietly re-instated the Sponsorship (kafala) system in Bahrain. Law 15/2011 that was issued by King Hamad Al Khalifa this month prevents migrant workers from leaving their employer within the first year of employment (amendment of Article 25 of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority [LMRA] Law). Previously, amendments to the LMRA law in April of 2009 were hailed worldwide as progress, and “axing” of Bahrain’s Sponsorship law (the first country to do so in the Gulf). In effect, the Sponsorship system was never abolished – the change was largely symbolic – with the LMRA becoming the official sponsor of migrants. However, the April 2009 decision did include a significant positive element – it now allowed employees to leave their employer without the employer’s consent. This positive decision has now been reversed by the Law issued this month.
On top of the un-official reinstatement of the Sponsorship system, workers have been handed down unfair rulings in court. 128 Indian workers who were promised salaries of BD 100 ($270) per month stopped working after they were instead given only BD 45 ($120) and were unable to survive on such a salary. They’ve been stranded in Bahrain for five years because when the workers attempted to leave the country they were informed that absconding charges were brought against them. Their employer, the Abdulla Nass Contracting Company, demanded the underpaid workers compensate the Company, and a Bahraini court ruled in the favor of the employer. Each of the workers was ordered to pay between BD 400 ($1,100) and BD 600 ($1,600) for breaching their contracts. The workers are of course unable to pay such sums, and are forced to stay in Bahrain. It was announced today that their case has been postponed for four more months, as the workers struggle to survive in Bahrain, living on borrowed money from friends.
Last week, when a group of 300 Asian construction workers went on strike demanding an increase in their meager salaries, 40 of them were fired after their management declared that the strike in “illegal”. When the workers turned to the Labor Ministry, the Ministry backed the employer and told the workers that they’re forbidden to ask for salary increases. Five days after the strike began, the workers returned to work with no salary increases. Bahrain’s labor laws permit strikes but significantly restricts workers ability to practice this right.
The Bahraini regime clearly doesn’t practice what it preaches to the opposition. All the recent steps taken by the Bahraini regime indicate that it is much more interested in protecting the powerful employers and not the weak migrant workers.
UN rights chief trusts Bahrain probe to meet standards
(AFP) – 30 June 2011
GENEVA — The UN's human rights chief welcomed Thursday Bahrain's move to launch an independent probe of recent unrest and said she was confident it would meet international standards. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also revealed she had held back an assessment mission to the country at the King of Bahrain's request, "because I always encourage credible national investigations."
Bahrain on Thursday appointed a five-man panel to investigate the bloody unrest that erupted during anti-regime protests in February and March.
Pillay noted that two members of the panel -- Mahmud Sharif Bassiouni and Philip Kirsch -- were also part of the inquiry commission ordered by the Human Rights Council on violations in Libya.
"I would trust those individuals, their knowledge of justice and international law to carry out an investigation, in terms of acceptable international standards," she said.
"They are highly respected individuals and I would prefer then to see the outcomes of the investigations" before sending in her own assessment team, she added.
Kirsch is a Canadian lawyer and former president of the International Criminal Court.
Bassiouni, who is leading the Bahrain probe, chaired the UN Security Council's commission to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia in 1992 to 1994.
Despite an apparent calm in Bahrain, tensions are high in the kingdom where the Shiite majority has been hardest hit by a wave of layoffs and law suits that has been denounced by human rights organisations.
Twenty-four people died in the repression of popular protests between mid-February and mid-March, according to official figures from Manama. Four protesters have since died in custody.
UN welcomes Bahrain probe of unrest
(AFP) – 30 June 2011
UNITED NATIONS — UN chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed a move by Bahrain to launch a probe to investigate the violent repression of pro-democracy protests, but stressed its independence was key. The secretary-general "welcomes this development and underscores that the commission should be granted full access to all individuals, organizations and information relevant to the investigation," his spokesperson said.
Ban insisted the five-man panel appointed to investigate the bloody unrest that erupted during anti-regime protests in February and March must "be able to work with full independence in accordance with international norms and standards."
The commission, which must submit its findings by October 30, will have "free access to any person it deems useful," including "the alleged victims and witnesses of alleged violations of human rights," according to a royal decree.
"The government should not interfere in any way in the work of the commission," which may recommend "to try any person, including officers or employees" in order to "prevent a repeat of events" in the tiny Gulf kingdom.
Ordered by King Hamad on Wednesday, the five-man panel will be chaired by Mahmud Sharif Bassiouni, an international expert in criminal law.
It will also include Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer and former president of the International Criminal Court, and Sir Nigel Rodley Simon, member of the UN Commission for Human Rights. The king decreed that cases not yet heard by military courts will be referred to civil courts, and that verdicts issued by the former may be appealed.
Despite an apparent calm in Bahrain, tensions are high in the kingdom where the Shiite majority has been hardest hit by a wave of layoffs and lawsuits that has been denounced by human rights organizations.
Twenty-four people died in the repression of popular protests between mid-February and mid-March, according to official figures from Manama. Four protesters have since died in custody.
The Atlantic: Exiled and 24: The Young Woman Fighting for Bahrain
Daughter to one of Bahrain's most prominent activists, Maryam al-Khawaja picks up the mission of her now-imprisoned father
by: KAREN LEIGH Published on theatlantic.com JUN 29 2011
When Maryam al-Khawaja and I first met in March, in a dingy hospital hallway in Manama, Bahrain's regime had just tear gassed hundreds of its staunchest detractors, shooting them with rubber bullets and live ammunition while they slept and prayed. The dead and wounded were brought to Salmaniya medical center, where their loved ones were met by an energetic girl in jeans and a head scarf, hopping from floor to floor directing foot traffic, doling out information to worried families, and escorting aid workers. Around 3 a.m., with the screams of a grieving mother echoing down the corridor, Maryam delivered a denunciation indictment of the U.S.'s silence on what was going on around her, calling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's criticism of the regime a mere wrist slap. By May, she had found a bigger audience, having left Bahrain for the U.S. and Europe, her anecdotes and big brown eyes humanizing Bahrain's faltering opposition for a West that did not fully understand it.
From Brown University to the Oslo Freedom Forum to Voice of America, she preached the gospel that had been violently muted on Manama's streets -- the regime, she repeated, was doing grievous things, and the U.S. and its allies needed to step up their rhetoric.
Last week, her work took on a new urgency, when father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the country's best-known opposition activist, was marched into a closed-door military tribunal and sentenced to life in prison for anti-government propaganda.
That a 24-year-old girl has become the face of one of the most repressed Arab Spring revolutions comes as a surprise only to those who don't know her lineage. Maryam's was born in Denmark to then-exiled Abdulhadi and his wife, Khadija, who had been banned from Bahrain in the mid-1980s. They lived in Denmark until returning to Manama in 2001, as soon as they were allowed re-entry. Maryam was 14.
Those who know Maryam say boundary-treading is in her DNA. "Let's face it -- she grew up in that milieu of human rights activism," said Joe Stork, the deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East, who has worked and traveled with Maryam in Washington and Geneva and been with her on panels and at conferences. "Abdulhadi is a very charismatic character, he's always been very courageous, very outspoken, and very much inclined to push the envelope. And that's her role model."
Maryam graduated from the University of Bahrain in 2009, then embarked on a Fulbright scholarship to Brown University in the U.S. Upon her return in the summer of 2010, she hoped to find work teaching or in public relations. But as the daughter of one of their most prominent foes, regime officials effectively blocked her ability to get hired. So she turned to the family business: the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, founded by her father. Now she runs the foreign relations office, serving as a deputy to its president, Nabeel Rajab, who appears regularly in the international press and is one of the few activists in Manama to have avoided arrest.
Her father's work "definitely influenced" her, she said when I reach her by phone for this story. She spoke from Copenhagen, her time there a brief respite from the nonstop travel schedule -- Oslo, Geneva, California, London -- she's been maintaining. "The job was there and the motivation was there, but [the government] pushed me into it full-time," she said of her decision to join the Center. Halfway through our conversation, and a testament to her work ethic, she revealed that it was her 24th birthday.
With Center president Rajab's scope limited -- he is not allowed to leave the country, and it remains difficult for media to get in -- and at least 500 top opposition members locked away, the activist's daughter is in a unique position. She was present during the demonstrations and, given her family's involvement, has a bird's-eye view of the politics behind the anti-government movement. She speaks fluent English and is well-connected abroad. With her family's consent, during the regime's crackdown, she boarded a flight from Manama, booked for talks at colleges and conferences, meeting with politicians in the U.K. As her public profile grew, it became apparent that she would risk arrest should she set foot back on Bahraini soil. "They're very cosmopolitan," Stork says of the al-Khawajas. "Maryam felt obliged to leave [Bahrain]. And she felt, or the Centre felt, that she should remain outside for her well- being."
A girl from one of the country's most prominent families, she is now without them. Maryam doubts she'll be allowed back into the island Kingdom anytime soon, and her mother and sisters plan to stay put "as long as we have any family in jail." Her sister Zainab continues their father's work on the home front. In April, widely known by her Twitter moniker, AngryArabiya, Zainab staged a high-profile hunger strike after the arrests of Abdulhadi, her husband and brother-in-law.
Back in Copenhagen, or wandering Providence after a talk, the only danger sister Maryam faces is that of pro-regime trolls, mainly via internet portals like Twitter, on which she has more than 17,500 followers. People are upset about her rhetoric, her gender, her dad. "She obviously comes into a lot of harassment," Stork said. "In the very polarized situation that Bahrain has become, she's been something of a lightning rod." In a country whose male protesters formed human chains to prevent women from joining, the harassment is "owing as much to her last name as her first name, if you get what I mean."
The verbal attacks on Maryam can be brutal. While I wrote this story, she tweeted a message to families of prisoners at Bahrain's Al Qurrain prison, telling them to bring their loved ones money for food and drinks. A follower replied: "u should be raped by some indian priest that doesnt [sic] believe in bathing."
Now that she's become a thorn in its side, the regime makes a point of having an official at every event she attends. That official feeds what she says back to Manama, typically distorting her words to make it appear she's slandering the regime. Stork said pro-government Bahrainis often follow up by requesting meetings with government officials with whom she has met.
"People threaten my life or reputation," Maryam told me. "But a lot of people in Bahrain support me and support my work and say I'm a hero to them." As for her minders, "I haven't seen them in a bit -- the last time I saw one was in the U.S. Sometimes I don't know they're there." She recalled being surprised to learn an entire speech she'd delivered at Brown had been recorded and transmitted home. She doesn't look too hard for her government's representatives, she said, and isn't constrained when they're around. In a plush hotel lobby in Norway, after her appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum, she casually pointed out what appeared to be a minder, watching discreetly from the front entrance -- then laughed, rolled her eyes and went back to her conversation. Over the course of that week she was equally comfortable in conversation with everyone from ProPublica editor and former Wall Street Journal chief Paul Steiger to young activists fresh off the plane from Asia and Africa.
But her spirits have faltered a bit. While in Europe between appearances, far from the adoring receptions and crowds of hundreds, she got the news that the al-Khawajas' famous patriarch, her father, was to spend the rest of his life staring at prison walls. She found out, she says, "in the most horrific way -- I was waiting for my sister to text me and instead I got a call from a journalist asking for my thoughts on my father being sentenced to life. I called my mother and she said it was true."
Her first response, quickly battened, was "to be emotional." Instead, like father, and for father, she began fighting for his appeal.
Bahraini King Announces Royal Investigation, Committee
POMED Wire - 29 June 2011
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain issued a royal decree (text) today establishing a committee to investigate the”incidents that happened in the kingdom in February and March.” The members of the committee are:
- (Chair) Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni: a research professor of law emeritus at DePaul University College of Law and president emeritus of the law school’s International Human Rights Law Institute
- Judge Phillipe Kirsch: a judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and was the Chairman of the committee that established the ICC
- Sir Nigel Rodley: a Professor of Law and Chair of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Exeter, U.K. and member of the U.N. Human Rights Committee
- Dr Mahnoush Arsanjani: a current member, and former Executive Council member, of the American Society for International Law, she has served in the Office of Legal Affairs at the United Nations
- Dr Badria Al-Awadhi: an International and Shari’a legal expert, and current director of the Arab Regional Center for Environmental Law (ARCEL)
HRF: Postponement of Appeals Undermines National Dialogue
June 29, 2011
Washington, D.C.— The Bahraini military court’s decision to postpone the appeals of 21 dissidents to overturn the sentences handed down to them last week undermines prospects for a successful national dialogue, said Human Rights First. “The government claims it’s starting a process of reconciliation while keeping human rights activists and credible opposition figures in prison,” said Brian Dooley of HRF. “There are real fears among activists in Bahrain that this process of dialogue is a sham to fool the international community. Today’s postponement fuels those fears.”
One of the defendants, prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was reportedly hospitalized due to the beatings he received in custody after his sentence was read out on June 22. As the dialogue opens in July, mass trials of doctors, nurses and others accused by the authorities of trying to overthrow the government are set to continue. Defendants have not had proper access to lawyers, defense statements have not been accepted by the judges, and widespread and credible reports of torture of detainees continue to emerge.
President Obama warned Bahrain in his May 19 Middle East speech that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail,” but that is what’s happening. Human Rights First has asked a range of human rights activists and defenders what they think of the proposed national dialogue, which is being organized by the national government. Around 300 assorted representatives of civil society have been invited. “All have been asked to provide papers and will be invited to the central library ‘Sheikh Isa Centre’ to be subdivided onto groups,” said one prominent activist who asked to remain anonymous. “The groups will be chaired by handpicked individuals trained to prevent any redline topic from reaching a conclusion.” Another activist condemned the proposed process, saying the government could not be serious about dialogue when it is still shooting protestors, humiliating them at checkpoints, arresting them and attacking their homes. “This is just misleading the international community that they are in a process of reconciliation,” he said.
In May, Human Rights First published a report on human rights violations in Bahrain. The report includes illustrative cases and testimonies from human rights defenders, activists and victims, and recommends actions the U.S. government should take to address the crisis
UK Foreign Affairs Minster deeply concerned by the situation in Bahrain
Foreign Secretary William Hague made the following statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday 29 June 2011: [..] In comparison with these more encouraging developments, I am deeply concerned by the situation in Bahrain. While every Government has the right and duty to maintain law and order, the suspension and investigation of political parties, the imprisonment of leading moderate politicians, the alleged mistreatment of detainees and the trial of members of the medical profession before tribunals containing a military judge were all damaging to Bahrain and were all steps in the wrong direction. I welcome the King’s announcement of a national dialogue from 1 July and the end of the
state of national safety, but we look to Bahrain to match such announcements with concrete actions to address the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people and we look to leading figures on both sides in Bahrain to promote successful and peaceful dialogue.