- Documents on Democracy
At the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy (see p. 188), Maryam al-Khawaja accepted a Democracy Courage Tribute on behalf of human-rights defenders in Bahrain. Khawaja, the daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, whose president, Nabeel Rajab, also sits in prison for organizing and participating in protests for democratic reform. Below are excerpts from her speech:
Bahrain has had up to a hundred deaths resulting from its protest movement. . . . If we were comparing it per capita to Egypt, that would equal more than 11,000 people dead today. The largest protest in Bahrain was of about 300,000 to 400,000 people. That is like saying forty-million Egyptians came out onto the streets in a protest.
Because of its population, the situation in Bahrain seems like a very small, minor issue that can be overlooked. But the fact of the matter is that more than half of the population of a country came out to demand change, and they were beaten down by their own government. Thousands of people have been imprisoned. Thousands of people have been systematically tortured—physically, psychologically, and sexually. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. . . .
I’ve always said that when you want to understand the human-rights situation of any country, look at where their human-rights defenders are. In Bahrain, the most prominent human-rights defenders today sit in prison. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, and Abdeljalil al-Singace are in prison. Zainab al-Khawaja, Yousif al-Muhafdha, and Mohamed al-Maskati have been in and out of prison. That’s the reality we live in Bahrain: If your job is to criticize the government in regards to human-rights violations, if it is your job to document and report on human-rights violations in the country, then your place is in prison. . . .
It is not that people are no longer afraid. Fear exists because the consequences [End Page 183] are very real. The torture is very real. The killing is very real. So, it is not the inexistence of fear. It is rather that people have decided to tread on their fear, to go out despite their fear, and I think that’s what we should honor them for.
One of the things that I would also like to speak about very quickly is the Western or the international role towards the situation in Bahrain. When I became a human-rights defender, I was about 22 or 23 years old, and I went in with this romanticized, beautified vision of what the system that had been set up internationally to protect human rights was. Now, at the age of 25, I know better. I know that there is no such thing as an international system that protects human rights and human-rights defenders wherever they may be. . . .
Now, the Bahraini people have pledged to continue no matter what the costs are. They feel like they’ve been completely ignored and sidelined internationally. But they have decided to continue because they believe in the idea that no government can outlast its people. So, they have continued to go on, and to demand, and to protest every day despite not being covered by the media, despite not receiving the same kind of recognition or support internationally.
But despite all of the negativity in my speech, I would like to end on a positive note. My family went to visit my father in prison one day. And they were very upset and depressed because of the situation in Bahrain and because of the lack of international regard for the situation. My father asked them why they were upset and they explained it to him. He told them something that until today inspires me. He said to them, your attitude is wrong because the initial victory of the mass uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region is not regime change. It is not creating the reforms. It is the fact that masses of people tread upon their fears and went out to demand those things, and you should be celebrating that. That should...