Saturday, May 19, 2012

Activists are in Trouble in Bahrain

The situation for human rights defenders in Bahrain continues to deteriorate.

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), had his 100th day of hunger strike yesterday. He was arrested in April 2011. In June 2011 he was sentenced by a military court to life in prison for “organizing and managing a terrorist group.” The conviction was clearly illegitimate and has been roundly condemned by human rights groups.  He began his hunger strike on February 8, 2012. His daughter, Maryam Alkhawaja, said on twitter that her father is only consuming liquids. He has been detained for over a year.   

In late April, the government announced that it would retry Abdulhadi and 20 other human rights activists in civilian courts. No date has yet been set for the retrial.

On April 21, Zaineb Alkhawaja protested her father’s imprisonment by sitting in the middle of a highway in Bahrain. She was arrested on the same day. She has been charged with illegal gathering, obstructing traffic, assaulting an officer, and swearing at an officer.

Nabeel Rajab is the current president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). He was arrested on May 5th after his return from Beirut, Lebanon. He is charged with “participating in an illegal assembly and inciting others to join.”

Maryam Alkhawaja is the head of the International Office of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the Acting President of the BCHR and will remain so as long as Nabeel Rajab remains in jail. She is very active on twitter.

On May 11, the Obama administration announced another round of arms sales to Bahrain.

Post Script: Democracy Now! has done an excellent job covering the Arab Spring in Bahrain. Amy Goodman received the “Truthdigger of the Week” award from for her coverage of Bahrain. Here are some of the segments she has done on Bahrain in the past two months.

April 2: joined by Zaineb Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab

April 6: joined by May Ying Welsh, the director of AJE’s award-winning documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark” and a former employee of Democracy Now!

April 30: joined by Maryam Alkhawaja and Joe Stork, a director at Human Rights Watch

May 8: joined by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch

May 15: joined by Nabeel Hameed, a Bahraini doctor who expects to be tried soon after his return to Bahrain

Julian Assange now has his own show on Russia Today. It is called Julian Calendar: The World Tomarrow. So far, I have been very impressed. Here is the episode where Assange interviews Nabeel Rajab and Alaa Abdul Fattah about the Arab Spring.

UPDATE (06/04/2012): On May 28, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike. It lasted a total of 110 days. His told his family that his hunger strike was successful in drawing the world’s attention to human rights violations in Bahrain. Abdulhadi is still in prison and awaits a retrial in a civilian court on the charges of “organizing and managing a terrorist group.”

Also on May 28, Nabeel Rajab was released from prison. He still faces the charges of “participating in an illegal gathering and calling others to join,” “disturbing public order,” and “insulting a national institution.”

Zainab Al-Khawaja was released on May 29. She still faces the charges of “illegal assembly, assaulting a police officer and inciting hatred against the regime” and “obstructing traffic.”

Democracy Now! interviewed Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja after their release from prison.

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