‘The Al Khalifa rulers are just puppets. The puppetmaster we need to deal with is America.’ ~ Finian Cunningham
Tensions between the US-backed regime in Bahrain and pro-democracy protesters are reaching incendiary levels as the life of a prominent human rights activist on hungerstrike hangs perilously in the balance.
For more than a year, largely peaceful rallies have persisted in Bahrain despite a brutal crackdown by Saudi-backed forces. Now, demonstrations in solidarity with imprisoned hungerstriker Abdulhadi Al Khawaja are occurring on a daily basis in villages and towns across the Persian Gulf kingdom – defying intensified state repression.
And the Bahraini uprising, led mainly by the 70 per cent Shia population, is increasingly strident in its calls for the downfall of the unelected Sunni monarchy. The prospect for some kind of compromise leading to a constitutional monarchy – a “settlement” being pushed by Washington – is now viewed as anathema, well past its sell-by date.
Paradoxically, the conflict, chaos and blinding tear gas on the streets seems to be clarifying for the Bahraini people what needs to be done to achieve their democratic freedom.
Furthermore, anger is mounting towards the US government, which is seen more and more as the political guarantor of despotic rule by the Al Khalifa monarchy.
Significantly, in response to Bahraini security force violence and the tin ear of the island’s ruling dynasty, protesters appear to be resorting to violence as their last-resort means of political expression, with youths throwing petrol bombs and barricading off streets with burning vehicles and tyres.
Last week, US deputy ambassador Stephanie Williams posed for state-controlled Bahraini media as she visited riot police in hospital who had been injured (allegedly) during protests. Her visit only served to inflame further protests as Bahrainis point out that Williams has not shown any public concern for the many thousands more victims of state violence – even though there has been an upsurge in deaths among protesters in recent weeks from riot police firing live rounds and tear gas indiscriminately at crowds and into homes.
More than 70 people have been killed over the past year by Saudi-backed regime forces while thousands have been wounded and incarcerated – huge figures proportionate to the island’s tiny indigenous population of less than 600,000.
The invasion of Bahrain by Saudi and other Gulf forces to crush civilian protesters was secretly given the green light last March by Washington (and London). Days before the murderous crackdown, deputy ambassador Williams was photographed in another fawning media set-piece handing out doughnuts to Bahraini protesters who had staged a rally outside the US embassy in Manama.
Not so long ago, it seems, the US could carry off its deceptive pose as a benevolent soft power behind the regime. Not any more.
Heightening the tensions is the harrowing fate of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja (52) who is reported verging on coma after 56 days of refusing food.
Family and supporters fear that the internationally respected rights campaigner may be only hours from death. His family say that he has lost more than a quarter of his body mass and his vision has become impaired. But a visit to his bedside by the US deputy ambassador is not expected any time soon.
Former director of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, Khawaja began his latest fast for “death or freedom” on 8 February to protest the life sentence he received along with six other leading pro-democracy activists. Last April, he was arrested in his home by masked security agents for taking part in anti-regime demonstrations and for his outspoken opposition to the Al Khalifa rulers, in particular their abysmal human rights record. At the time of his arrest, he was viciously assaulted and dragged by his feet down the stairs of his home in front of his wife and children.
After more than two months of illegal detention during which Khawaja was tortured – suffering a broken jaw – he was convicted of “subversion” and being part of a “terrorist network serving a foreign power [Iran]”.
Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights groups, point out that Khawaja first began his prison fast in the last week of January with several other inmates. That initial protest was interrupted, but Khawaja resumed his fast soon after. That means the number of days he was been refusing food is closer to 63 – near the limit that the human body can withstand.
In a moving letter to his family, Khawaja recently wrote: “My dear and beloved family, from behind prison bars, I send to you my love and yearning. From a free man, to a free family. These prison walls don’t separate me from you, they bring us closer together. Our connection and determination is stronger than ever. We take our strength, from beautiful memories. Remembering every trip, every meal we ate together, all the conversations, remembering every smile, all the jokes and the laughter. The distance between us disappears, through our love and faith.” His letter went on: “It’s true: I am in here, and you are out there. But, you are in here with me, and I am out there with you. Our pain is made more bearable when we remember that we chose this difficult path and took an oath to remain on it. We must not only remain patient through our suffering, we must never allow the pain to conquer our souls. Let our hearts be filled with joy, and an acceptance of the responsibility we have been given for in the end, this life is about finding a path of truth towards God.”
Given the gross miscarriage of justice, international appeals for Khawaja’s release have been sent to Washington and London, the main backers of the Bahraini regime. So far, there has been no intervention from the US or British governments to save the activist’s life.
Appeals have also been sent to the government in Denmark, where Khawaja obtained citizenship, having lived in that country for several years and where he trained in human rights. The Copenhagen government says it is lobbying the Bahraini rulers for his release so that he can receive medical treatment in Denmark.
However, Washington is seen as having the pivotal influence on the Al Khalifa regime, which hosts the US Navy Fifth Fleet in the port of Juffair. In a speech last May that alluded to a special relationship, US President Barack Obama said: “Bahrain is a long-standing partner and we are committed to its security.”
Earlier this year, Obama spelled out what this commitment meant when he signed off a weapons deal with Bahrain worth $53 million – this in spite of the year-long brutal repression against civilian pro-democracy protests.
The silence from Washington in the face of suffering by Abdulhadi Khawaja and his family is speaking volumes to the Bahraini populace. His ordeal and Washington’s callous indifference is being seen an epitome of the general population’s struggle for justice and democratic freedom.
As one Bahraini activist said: “People are seeing that the real enemy to our freedom is the US government. The Al Khalifa rulers are just puppets. The puppetmaster that we need to deal with is the American government.”
To that end, protesters have taken to burning American flags and are planning to focus demonstrations and political action on the US embassy and US Navy Fifth Fleet base. The anti-US government feeling in Bahrain is reaching a flashpoint.
A spokesman for one of the activist groups in Bahrain, the Pearl Revolution Political Center, said: “We are holding the US directly responsible to the suffering in our country. We will not spare the illegal presence of the Fifth Fleet and the counter-revolution that the US embassy is feeding behind the scenes.”
As Washington goes into foghorn mode about protecting human rights in Syria, Bahrainis must be realising that such high-minded words are not simply double standards or contradictory. American government deception is straightforward: in Syria, arm and support anti-state groups to kill civilians; in Bahrain, arm and support pro-state groups to kill civilians. Because in the end, it’s all about Washington asserting power. Human rights have got nothing to do with it.
Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa Correspondent
last year ….
Bahrain: Activist Zaynab Al-Khawaja’s letter to President Barack Obama as she began her hunger strike
Letter to President Obama
I write to you from Bahrain, after living through horrible injustice that I would never wish upon anyone in the world. Security forces attacked my home, broke our doors with sledgehammers, and terrified my family. Without any warning, without an arrest warrant and without giving any reasons; armed, masked men attacked my father. Although they said nothing, we all know that my father’s crime is being a human rights activist. My father was grabbed by the neck, dragged down a flight of stairs and then beaten unconscious in front of me. He never raised his hand to resist them, and the only words he said were “I can’t breathe”. Even after he was unconscious the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him. This is a very real threat considering that in the past two weeks alone three political prisoners have died in custody. The special forces also beat up and arrested my husband and brother-in-law.
Since their arrest, 3 days ago, we have heard nothing. We do not know where they are and whether they are safe or not. In fact, we still have no news of my uncle who was arrested 3 weeks ago, when troops put guns to the heads of his children and beat his wife severely.
Having studied in America, I have seen how strongly your people believe in freedom and democracy. Even through these horrible times many of the people supporting me are Americans who never thought their government would stand by dictators and against freedom-loving people. To the American people I send my love and gratitude.
I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the Alkhalifa regime has already proven that they do not care about our rights or our lives.
When you were sworn in as president of the United States, I had high hopes. I thought: here is a person who would have never become a president if it were not for the African-American fight for civil liberties; he will understand our fight for freedom. Unfortunately, so far my hopes have been shattered. I might have misunderstood. What was it you meant Mr. president? YES WE CAN… support dictators? YES WE CAN… help oppress pro-democracy protesters? YES WE CAN… turn a blind eye to a people’s suffering?
Our wonderful memories have all been replaced by horrible ones. Our staircase still has traces of my father’s blood. I sit in my living room and can see where my father and husband were thrown face down and beaten. I see their shoes by the door and remember they were taken barefoot. As a daughter and as a wife I refuse to stay silent while my father and husband are probably being tortured in Bahraini prisons. As a mother of a one-year-old who wants her father and grandfather back, I must take a stand. I will not be helpless. Starting 6pm Bahrain time tonight I will go on a hunger strike. I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My uncle: Salah Alkhawaja.
I am writing this letter to let you know, that if anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American, Syrian or a Libyan and that regional and political considerations should not be prioritized over liberty and human rights.
I ask of you to look into your beautiful daughters’ eyes tonight and think to yourself what you are personally willing to sacrifice in order to make sure they can sleep safe at night, that they can grow up with hope rather than fear and heartache, that they can have their father and grandfathers embrace to run to when they are hurt or in need of support. Last night my one-year-old daughter went knocking on our bedroom door calling for her father, the first word she ever learnt. It tore my heart to pieces. How do you explain to a one-year-old that her father is imprisoned? I need to look into my daughter’s eyes tomorrow, next week, in the years to come, and tell her I did all that I could to protect her family and future.
For my daughter’s sake, for her future, for my father’s life, for the life of my husband, to unite my family again, I will begin my hunger strike.
11th April 2011
Editor’s Note: Zaynab Alkhawaja is the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist who was arrested and beaten unconscious in his own home by Bahraini police or military forces earlier this month. Her husband, brother-in-law and uncle were also arrested. They were all arrested for taking part in peaceful protests against the Bahraini regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and haven’t been seen since the time of their arrest. The life and welfare of her family members is especially a matter of great concern because other protestors have died while in Bahraini police custody. Zaynab wrote the following letter to US President Barack Obama and began her hunger strike on April 12, 2011. She said that she will refuse food until the 4 men are released. She is the 27 year old mother of a one year old baby girl.
Photos of the Zaynab’s family and an eye witness account of their arrest appear below her letter.
Four members of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja family
|Abdullhadi Alkhawaja’s son in law, Wafi Al-Majed with his one year old daughter|
|Hussain Ahmed is Abdulhadi Alkhawaja’s son in law (Batool Alkhawaja’s fiance)|
|Human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja with a rose of peaceful resistance.|
Batool Alkhawaja* cites details on the arrest of her father, human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, her fiance Hussain Ahmed, and brother in-law Al-Majed.
This is what happened according to her, as she was present when the arrest took place:
|At around 1 am of the 9th of April, 2011, I was sitting with my fiancé, Hussein Ahmed, at my sister’s apartment when my father, AbdulHadi AlKhawaja, came to us and asked me to check the internet if there’s any news about security forces going to my grandmother’s place. I checked and I saw that my cousin had written that security forces had gone there and to our apartment, too.I let my dad know and he asked me to wake everyone up so that we’ll be ready when they arrive since they’d probably come here next. We also got Jude, my niece, out of the house and then we all changed and sat in the living room and waited. I don’t know what time it was exactly, around 2 or 2:30 am, when we heard the sound of the building door being broken down. It was a matter of seconds when we heard the same sound coming from the apartment door.
My dad quickly got up to open the living room door and that’s when the security forces got in. The one I saw first was masked and as soon as he was in sight started shouting at my dad, in really bad Arabic, to get down “tahat, tahat”. My dad immediately tried to get down to the ground but the man grabbed him and dragged him outside. My mom and sisters (Zainab and Fatima) followed while I was still inside the living room with Hussein and my brothers-in-law (Wafi AlMajid & Mohammed AlMaskati).
The same masked man looked inside and saw Hussein first. He immediately started shouting and coming towards him so Hussein stepped in front of me so that I wouldn’t be harmed. The man then saw Mohammed and Wafi and shouted at them too. As he pulled them from their clothes toward the door he hit each one of them, hard, on their heads; especially Mohammed who was the last one to leave the living room.
I followed them out and when I reached the staircase I could see my dad on the ground being beaten by the security forces who were all masked and I saw my fiancé and brothers-in-law being shoved and handcuffed. There were other men in civilian clothing all masked and armed. I heard my sister shouting that my father couldn’t breathe and that they shouldn’t beat my father since he wasn’t resisting arrest and the security forces were shouting at her and one of them was saying “who is she?! Take her too!!” One of them grabbed my sister by the shirt, shoved my mother aside, and dragged her up the stairs and pushed her into a room and told her to stay inside or she would be arrested too.
He told us to go inside too and closed the door on us. He then suddenly opened the door again and it hit my sister Zainab in the face. He was telling her that she should better shut up or she would be taken too and my mother stood in front of her and pleaded with him not to take her. We could hear sounds of beating outside but couldn’t get out of the room. One of the masked men in civilian clothing came inside and told us that he would be filming with a video camera and that we should cover our faces. He filmed the place and they searched it then closed the door again and told us not to leave. At that point I couldn’t help crying but my mom and sisters were telling me to be strong and not to cry.
We sat and waited until there was no sound in the building then went downstairs to see what had happened. I saw drops of blood on the stairs where my dad had been beaten. I also saw that the doors to all four apartments in the building had been broken. I went into the downstairs apartment and saw that it was in a complete mess with things thrown all over the floor. That’s when I saw my brother-in-law, Mohammed AlMaskati, who told us how they’d decided to let him go when they realized that he’s a human rights activist.
He told us how they’d thrown all of them on their faces in the downstairs living room and had kicked and beaten my fiancé and
I also noticed that they’d taken Wafi’s computer and three phones belonging to me, my fiancé, and my sister Zainab. They’d also broken the wireless internet reuter (dunno what it’s called). Needless to say, sleep was out of the question at that point so we ended up spending the early morning hours cleaning the place up.
Now, three days later, we still don’t know where they are and have no idea how they’re doing. On the day of his arrest, we’d received a text message from Hussein’s number saying “I’m fine”. It didn’t make us feel any better since they’d taken the phone and could’ve written the message themselves or forced him to write it.
*Thanks to my cousin Batool Alkhawaja for documenting the events and taking the time to write it all down.
Source: Angry Arabiya
related archives on file