The Syrian people have miraculously just acquired 83 'friends', currently meeting in Turkey, ostensibly on their behalf. It's incredible how popular they've become of late, especially with the kind of folks who, in years past, wouldn't have given them the time of day.
The Bahraini people, however, have no such 'friends'. In fact, 3 of the Syrian people's 'friends', Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates, even sent their troops into Bahrain last year to gun down democracy-seeking Bahrainis and prop up the island's tinpot monarchy.
And along with their new-found popularity, the suddenly sexy Syrians have gained an unprecedented share of the media limelight, what with Qatar owning Al-Jazeera and all.
The friendless Bahrainis, however, are apparently insufficiently photogenic to grace our TV screens.
In fact, so unsexy are the Bahrainis vis-a-vis the Syrians (and before them, the Libyans) that, as far as former foreign minister Rudd* and the ms media are concerned, their heroic, ongoing freedom struggle and the thus far 56-day old hunger strike of Bahrain's leading human rights campaigner, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, may as well be taking place on the dark side of the moon.
Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, reportedly on the verge of lapsing into a coma, symbolises the steely determination of the Bahraini people to attain the kind of elementary human rights and basic democratic norms we in Australia take for granted.
To put a face to the name, and in the unforgivable absence of any Australian ms media coverage of his plight, I present the open letter Abdulhadi wrote on the first day of his hunger strike in Jaw Prison and the incredibly moving letter, possibly his last, that he wrote to his family in late February:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs
Subject: My case as a Bahraini-Dane detained in Bahrain:
Firstly, allow me to thank you and other Danish officials, specially at the Danish embassy, for your concern with my case since I was arrested in Bahrain on April 8, 2011. My gratitude is extended to every Danish citizen who heard about my case and sympathized with me, including members of the parliament, media, and human rights defenders.
Secondly, I would like to stress the positive influence on me of the 12 years that I spent in Denmark, along with my beloved wife and four brave daughters, from March, 1989, until June 2001, when we returned to Bahrain following a general amnesty. At the beginning of that period I received my first professional training in human rights by the Danish Centre for Human Rights which took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen. This training and other forms of indirect support had an important impact on my voluntary work as the director of the Bahrain Human Rights Organization (BHRO), based in Copenhagen, which played an important role in the positive developments that took place in Bahrain a decade ago. More important, living in Denmark and experiencing first hand its social and political system inspired my work for democracy and human rights in Bahrain and the MENA region during the last 10 years as an activist, researcher and trainer; in Bahrain as the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) from 2002 until 2008, and at the regional level as the MENA regional field coordinator for Front Line Defenders, the international foundation for the protection of human rights defenders, based in Dublin, Ireland, from August 2008 until February, 2011.
Thirdly, I have no regrets that I had to pay a price for my work promoting human rights. It is a serious business addressing such issues as corruption, inequality and discrimination in the service of the ruling [al-Khalifa] family and documenting arbitrary detention and torture by the brutal National Security Apparatus. So, as unfair as it was, it came as no real surprise when I was detained in 2004, severely beaten during peaceful protests in 2005 and 2006, subjected to unfair trials, travel bans, and ongoing defamation campaigns in the official and semi-official media, and then, finally, as part of the crackdown on the widespread popular protests beginning on February 14, 2011, severely beaten, arbitrarily detained, held in solitary confinement and subjected to torture for over 2 months, brought before a military court on charges faked by the National Security Apparatus (such as 'instigating hatred against the regime'! and 'planning to overthrow it'!), and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence which I have been serving to date.
Fourthly, it was a great comfort to hear about the growing support for my case from the people and activists in Bahrain, and from colleagues and friends on the regional and international levels, in addition to statements and campaigns calling for the release of myself and other activists by the UN High Commission for Human Rights and international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International and Human Rights First. It has also been of great comfort to receive visits by Danish diplomats during court sessions and at Jaw Prison, especially the kind Assistant to the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia who kept me and my family informed of the concern and efforts made by Danish officials in my case.
Fifthly, as a recommendation from a Danish citizen, I would appreciate it if my case is legally researched to examine the numerous violations I have been subjected to and the legal basis for keeping me in prison. Based on such research, the Danish authorities could take more action regarding my case. Taking into consideration the findings of the 'Independent Commission of Inquiry' (ICI) formed by the King, which documented my case, the Danish authorities could use it, along with other such cases, as a basis for its final observations and recommendations relating to the issues of arrest, arbitrary detention, torture and unfair trial. A summary of my case was published in the final report as Case No. 8, page 426. See also the relative general observations, numbers 1693-1706.
Sixthly, as a human rights defender, regardless of my status as a Danish citizen, I am entitled to protection by EU member states in accordance with the EU guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders around the world. Hence, I would suggest that the Danish authorities, in coordination with other EU members, kindly put more effort into taking all possible actions at the regional level such as embassies, in Brussels institutions, and at the UN in Geneva, to address my case and those of other detained activists calling for the release, reparation and protection of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Among these detained activists are my brother, Salah Alkhawaja, and a Swedish-Bahraini activist, Mohammed Habib Al-Muqdad.
Finally, thank you again and my warm greetings go out to all Danish citizens. I hope that all of these efforts, and yours, will soon secure my release so that I can rejoin my family and friends and resume my work, which this time will be as the director of the newly-formed Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) in Beirut.
I wish you all the best.
Abdulhadi Abdulla Alkhawaja
Bahrain, February 8, 2012
NB: 1) Please hand a copy to my family. 2) This is an 'open letter' so please feel free to use it in any way you see fit.
"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.
"It's true I'm 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 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." (frontlinedefenders.org)
[*See my 7/4/11 post No Tears for Bahrain.]