Activist mother continues campaign against injustice in Bahrain
By Ahmed J Versi
Human rights activist and mother of a one year-old baby girl, Zainab Al-Khawaja, was persuaded to end her 10-day hunger strike against the brutal arrest of her family to become more effective in using her voice to highlight the oppression and injustices being committed in Bahrain.
Zainab Al-Khawaja is the daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist who was arrested and beaten unconscious at his daughter’s home earlier this month by Bahraini security forces.
Her husband, Wafi Almajed, 29, brother-in-law Hussein Ahmed, 20, were also arrested at the same time, even though were not involved in the protests against the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and have not been seen since April 8. Her uncle, Salah Al-Khawaja was arrested in March.
The 27 year-old mother brought attention of the world media to the plight of the atrocities being carried out by the Bahraini Government against peaceful pro-democracy protesters for the past two months by going on hunger strike four days after her father was arrested. She said then that she would refuse food until the four men are released.
Zainab’s health deteriorated so much so that she could barely keep awake and found it difficult to move. She was being looked after by their youngest sister, Batool, who is a nurse. Batool’s husband was abducted with their father.
Zainab was also beaten up when she tried to rescue her father. Her mother was pushed aside (and still has bruises) when she went to protect her daughter.
In a letter to US President Barack Obama, she appraised the extent of the human right abuses committed by the Bahrain Government and reminded him of his lack of support for the people of her country. She began her hunger strike on April 11, on the same day as she wrote an open letter, which also included the brutal arrests suffered by her family members and asked the US President to stop supporting the Government of Bahrain. However, at the time of going to press, she has yet to hear from Obama.
Zainab related to The Muslim News last Thursday what happened when Bahraini security forces attacked their home, broke their doors with sledgehammers, and terrified her family.
The masked men attacked her father without provocation and without giving any reasons.
“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. He was gasping for breath. I heard him say, ‘I can’t breathe’ as one of the men continued to strangle him. I ran towards him to protect him and I told the man to stop beating him. I said my father isn’t resisting. I was grabbed by my clothes and dragged up the stairs. As I was being dragged up I saw my father lying down not moving and I saw my husband and brother in law being taken away.”
Even after Abdulhadi became unconscious the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him.
When Zainab’s mother saw her daughter being mishandled and when one of the attackers said, ‘Bring that BITCH’, Khadija Al-Musawi rushed towards her daughter to prevent her being taken away. “I went in between Zainab and the man to stop her taking her away. He shoved me. I still have bruises in my arm and back,” Khadija told The Muslim News over the phone from Bahrain.
“I am very sad at what is happening. My husband did not say anything out of the normal for any democratic country. If he had been in any country I don’t think he would have been punished,” she said. Khadija said her two son-in-laws were arrested just because they happened to be in the house. “They had done nothing. They were there as our family get together on a Friday.”
The first they found out that Abdulhadi and the son-in-laws were alive was when on April 20, Khadija received a phone call from the military court authorities asking them to send clothes for her husband. “Then at night, he called. He sounded very tired. He wasn’t thinking properly. My husband is very strong and brave. However, when he said, Al Bala Azim (tribulation is too much [great]), I realised he was in a very bad situation.” Abdulhadi asked Khadija to send him a mouth wash. She told him she had sent him a tooth brush and a toothpaste with his clothes. “‘I can’t use the toothpaste and tooth brush’ he told me. I realised that something must have been done to his face that he can’t use the toothbrush.”
Khadija said she feared something bad might happen to him. “I am concerned. He is my husband, he is my best friend, he is my brother, he is my father, he is everything to me,” she said sobbing.
The family were worried that something dreadful may happen to them as three prisoners died in custody in the two previous weeks.
Zainab started her hunger strike because she wanted to find some way to show she could do something and felt “the Government were trying to makes us feel weak. That was the way to empower myself, my family and the people of Bahrain. I wanted people to hear of injustices against my family and people of Bahrain.”
On the 9th day of her hunger strike many visited her and requested her to change her mind. “At the time I was very weak, I could hardly speak. They told me they needed me and needed my help to speak out not only about my family but what is happening in Bahrain. It wasn’t in my interest to lose my voice and my life as I would not be able to speak out for them.” She eventually agreed and said it was the “right decision” so that “I can speak out what is happening about my father and what is happening in Bahrain.”
Zainab was grateful to the people of America, Britain and other parts of the world who have written to her since her hunger strike giving them support. However, she said the governments of US and UK continued to support the King of Bahrain.
“If they claim they support human rights and democracy why are they still supporting the dictatorship? We are not asking them to fight for us.”
Zainab added that people in Bahrain are angry at the Americans and the British. “Bahrainis have fought so hard for their freedom. What they are seeing is that the West is coming between them and their freedom. I have talked to people in villages. They are very angry at British and American governments. I saw one person in a village holding a tear gas canister which had ‘made in USA’ written on it. He was holding it up and saying, ‘This is Obama’s gift to us, not democracy’.
* On April 21, 102 human right individuals from across the Middle East and North Africa issued a statement of support for imprisoned human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the use of excessive violence during his arrest, without a judicial warrant, along with his two sons in law…followed by their detention in an unidentified location and to trial Mr Al- Khawaja before a military court…We believe that these massive violations constitute strong evidence that the Government of Bahrain works contrary to all human rights laws…We… hold the authorities responsible for ensuring the safety of Al-Khawaja and we call for his immediate release along with the detained members of his family.”
Source: Muslim News