A Conversation with Bahraini Human Rights Defender Saidyousif al-Mahafdha
Human Rights First is running a series of profiles on human rights defenders we work with in various countries. These profiles help to explain their work, motivations, and challenges.
*Update 01/17/2013: Said Yousif was arrested on December 17, 2012 with a hearing scheduled for January 17, 2013. Said was released from custody pending the next court date of January 29, 2013.
Saidyousif al-Mahafdha, the head of monitoring cases and documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, (BCHR), works closely with Human Rights First to report on the daily violence and crackdown on the peaceful protesters in Bahrain. Yousif works closely with detained human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, and has been very active in documenting, tweeting, blogging and raising awareness behind the government abuses in Bahrain.
How did you become an activist?
I don’t belong to a family with any interest in politics. I live with a middle class family in an area far from the daily protest. In 2007 I attended a conference organized by “Waad” a Bahraini liberal political society and there were recent released political prisoners speaking up about the brutal torture they have endured in prison. This conference was a wake-up call for me, it almost felt if I was hearing stories from Abu Ghraib Prison. Later that night I was not able to sleep very well, I was haunted by the stories I’ve heard and I was thinking on how to help my people. The next day I sent an email to Nabeel Rajab and since I have no interest in politics, I asked to work with him at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).
Do you see yourself as a Human Rights Defender?
Yes, I am a human rights defender and I attend and monitor the peaceful protests and I try my best to be in the heart of the main events where most human right violations occur. I try to defend the rights of the people and I bridge what I see on the ground by communicating with international Human Rights organizations like Front Line Defenders and Human Rights First.
How do you perceive the current situation in Bahrain?
The situation is escalating and the violations are increasing. It seems like the regime in Bahrain doesn’t have any intentions on stopping the violations any time soon and without pressure internationally, especially from the US and UK, it will continue the same.
What do you want – outcome based?
I intend to continue my path as a Human Rights Activists to defend the rights of my people, I have no interest in joining a parliament, a ministry or any similar institutions. Working in the Human Rights field brings me a comfort and satisfies my conscience.
What risks do you see are posed on your everyday life?
Many risks and dangers. I have been sacked from my work, received death threats from a security officer on twitter and received anonymous threats of being arrested or killed. I have been arrested twice and once I was beaten. I may be targeted or shot at and be injured like what recently happened to Zainab Al-Khawaja while she was participating in a peaceful protest. I may also be arrested again at any time. Yet in spite of all the risks and threats I am fully aware that it is the price I have to pay to continue my path to defend human rights and I am willing to endure whatever may come.
What is a normal day in the life of…Said Yousif?
I start my day by responding to emails sent from organizations, reporters, activists and others, I don’t go to work since I have been expelled. Later, being the Head of Monitoring & Follow Up at Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), I visit and document violations that happened the night before for example arrests, police vandalizing, thefts, injuries and torture caused by the regime’s mercenaries.
At night I go to a coffee shop to write the statement based on what I documented and then I meet fellow members of the BCHR or attend meetings with civil society organizations. I also attend and monitor peaceful protests happening in the villages. I rarely see my wife and daughters in spite the fact that we live in the same flat. I usually dedicate Fridays to be with them.