Visiting Bahraini activist Al-Khawaja tells of state-led torture and killings

Osman El Sharnoubi, Tuesday 3 Apr 2012

After being held at Cairo's main airport for hours, celebrated Bahraini human rights worker Maryam Al-Khawaja makes downtown conference to relate continued abuses of protesters by the island state's government

Maryam Al-Khawaja, (Photo: twitter).

Prominent Bahraini activist Maryam Al-Khawaja arrived in Egypt on Monday to give a conference at the office of Nazra for Feminist Studies in Cairo's downtown district.

Al-Khawaja is a human rights activist and head of the foreign relations office for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), co-founded by her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. He is presently serving a life sentence in Bahrain for anti-state crimes.

After landing in Cairo airport, Al-Khawaja was initially denied entry due to being "blacklisted and banned," said Al-Khawaja on her Twitter account citing the Bahraini embassy. However, her lawyer was able to get her through customs hours later.

Al-Khawaja and another Bahraini student activist, Iman Oun, each spoke at the conference held Monday afternoon about the Bahraini uprising and current conditions in the island kingdom.

Al-Khawaja started by relating the recent developments in the recent Bahraini protest movement, which began in February 2011. 

The state continues to carry out systematic violations of human rights even after the government initiative, known as the "Bassiouni report", which supposedly investigated these abuses, was published, Al-Khawaja explained.

The Bassiouni report, or the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was a government sponsored probe into the events of February and March 2011. It was published in a few months later in November last year.

The BICI said it found cases of abuse and torture by regime forces as well as, allegedly, violence on the part of protesters to be true.  

Al-Khawaja refutes the regime's assertion that reforms are being implemented following recommendations by the BICI. Claims that individual rights, human rights and freedoms are being respected are false, the Bahraini activist said. In contrast, Al-Khawaja added, they have increased.

She continued by asserting that excessive use of force, torture and killings are perpetrated daily by security and intelligence forces with impunity.

She mentioned the story of a 16-year-old boy who was, reportedly, sexually abused and tortured for refusing to work as an informant. When the boy decided to press charges against the security apparatus, he was tried for submitting a false report.

One of the main problems, believes Al-Khawaja, is the lack of accountability.

Officials committing crimes, even when acknowledged by the government in the BICI, are not held accountable but on the contrary, she added, they are lauded and even promoted.

The national security apparatus head in 2011 is now an advisor to the king, Al-Khawaja stated.  The same goes for the ruling family, whose members personally administered torture to protesters. When activists submitted these reports, Al-Khawaja explained, they were dismissed.  

The role of women in the revolution has always been prominent, Al-Khawaja said. Throughout the Bahraini uprisings, which she reminded the audience have taken place every decade since 1920, women were involved.

Women have paid the same price as men, whether being beaten, harassed, tortured or killed, she added. The BCHR has documented over 20 miscarriages of pregnant women due to various government-led abuses.

Al-Khawaja mentions a video, one of her favorites she says, showing a Bahraini woman exiting her house with veil and cloak then spraying graffiti on a wall, which reads "even if men quit the revolution, women will continue."

She says that in her view this video destroys certain Western stereotypes about Muslim and Arab women: that they follow in the footsteps of men in political struggles and revolutions. In fact, says Al-Khawaja, they take the lead on many occasions.

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