An interview with Maryam al-Khawaja, a leading Bahraini human rights activist, on the continuing protests in Bahrain, the regime’s continued repression and the UK’s involvement in the ongoing situation.
Maryam al-Khawaja is the Acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Co-Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. She comes from a family of prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain, with her sister having served and her father continuing to serve time as political prisoners.
David Wearing: Let’s start by talking about the legal situation with your dad and your sister. Where do things stand with them at the moment?
Maryam al-Khawaja: My father is sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s been through all the legal processes available in Bahrain. His sentence has been upheld at every level, right up to the end at the Court of Cassation. But of course, when we’re talking about the justice system in Bahrain, there isn’t really due process. Nor do you have any real insight into how the judiciary works because these are political decisions made outside of the courtroom. The courts are not independent, nor are they fair.
My sister Zainab got out of prison about a month ago after being in prison for approximately a year. She’s now facing three more court cases, so she could be arrested again at any point.
DW: Can you tell us something about the political demands they were making and the non-violent techniques they employed in their activism?
MK: My father has been a human rights defender for a very long time now. He’s been working on the ground there since 2001. And his demands were very much to do with human rights; demanding civil and human rights for all people in Bahrain. And his way of doing this was to create an awareness in society of what civil and human rights are.
So he would train the youth to work on their own chosen issues, helping to set up thematic committees that would work on a given issue and bring pressure on the government to deal with that issue. But of course, my father’s work wasn’t just limited within the borders of Bahrain. The amount of people he’s trained to work on human rights across the Middle East and North Africa is countless.
And this created a real threat to the regime, the fact that not only was he working on human rights but that he was also sowing the seeds so in the future there would be hundreds of other people doing the same thing. That’s why he was one of their main targets and why he’s sentenced to prison today.
Zainab is very well known for her use of non-violent methodology in dealing with the situation that you face in Bahrain on a day-to-day basis. Which is, for example, when you’re attacked by the police you don’t run, you stand your ground, which is scary, of course, it’s difficult and not anyone can do it, but for her, non-violence is an active thing.