Monday, April 11, 2011

Hunger Strike

Thanks to connections I have, Bahrain is a country whose troubles I can't help but take more personally than most. Today Zainab Alkhawaja, who happens to be a former student of mine, announced a hunger strike over the arrest of her father and other family members:
"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."

The "father" is question is Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaji, former head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. The current head of that organization, Nabeel Rajab, has also been summoned for questioning over his exposure of regime torture. All this is part of a crackdown on opposition since the country's protests were broken up last month with GCC backing, especially from Saudi Arabia.

Zainab addresses a call for support to President Barack Obama:
"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 don't know what kind of influence the U.S. can use with Bahrain on issues where the regime has decided its survival seems to be at stake, and I suspect that some in government are falling for the fear of Iran that the GCC has been peddling. If there is leverage, however, simply supporting the rights of dissidents is an appropriate place to use it.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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