Bahrain human rights defenders shine light on state torture

By Tessa

At a protest against Bahraini state TV following the crackdown at Pearl Roundabout, several demonstrators wore hats or shirts that declared 'Read to die for Bahrain'. Photo credit to Al Jazeera English via Flickr, used through Creative Commons license.

It’s hard to get through this story of torture. It was personal. It was her family.

As Maryam al-Khawaja tells it, she moves briskly through the details. She has told it many times, and perhaps dwelling too much on the words brings too great a cost.

“This is one story among many,” she says. “There have been many people tortured far worse than my father, treated far worse than my father.”

Maryam joined Nabeel Rajab at the Danish Institute for International Studies last month for an open conference on the human rights situation in Bahrain, the island nation that lays next to Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.

Nabeel has long been an activist for human rights in the region and currently heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (also @BahrainRights), an organisation with no home, he explains. For several years, they have been banned and their accounts frozen by the state. Regardless, they continue their work. Maryam serves as the organisation’s head of foreign relations, travelling predominantly throughout Europe and the United States to speak about her family’s country and the situation there. She has not returned to Bahrain since April when her father was arrested.

The arrest happened at their home in front of all their family. Her father and three brothers-in-law were arrested at the same time. The police stormed into their home, pulled her father down the stairs, and began to beat him into unconsciousness. He was taken away and not heard from again for more than a week. He was charged and sentenced to life in prison in June.

Now, Maryam and Nabeel travel the world to raise awareness of the human rights crimes occurring in their country.

“In Bahrain, they need enough international pressure to stop the human rights violations,” Maryam says. Then, the people of Bahrain themselves can advocate for a democracy.

Her major focus has also been to remind the international community of the necessity of accountability – that once the violence stops, the perpetrators of torture, violence, and war crimes need to be brought to justice.

“No one remembers the permanent damage that these assaults have had on the tortured and their families,” she says.

But for Maryam and Nabeel, also himself a victim of torture, they can remember it well.

Follow Maryam and Nabeel on Twitter (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA and @NABEELRAJAB) and Facebook (Maryam and Nabeel) for constant updates on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

For more information, please watch this one-hour documentary broadcast on Al Jazeera English earlier this year on the democratic uprisings and brutal government crackdown.

 Tessa is a communications assistant, focusing on social media, story editing, and women and girls projects.


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