Human Rights Defender Profile: Ahlam Oun from Bahrain
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.
Ahlam Oun is a Leaders for Democracy Fellowship graduate from Maxwell School at Syracuse University in New York and worked at Search for Common Ground in the Partners for Humanity Department in Washington DC, USA. She is a recent member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and works closely with Human Rights First to blog in English on issues related to youth rights and stories of the injustice and Human Rights violations in Bahrain especially after Bahrain’s 14Feb Revolution.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the situation in Bahrain?
I perceive the situation in Bahrain as having two sides. On the bright side, despite the crackdown, harassment and bombardment of houses and arrests, people are still protesting and demanding their freedom and democracy. The crackdown has not waned people’s determination and I see it in their eyes and hear it in their chants. I describe it as the “audacity of hope”. The dark side, however, is that more recently, an “unofficial Marshall law” has been implemented with increased midnight arrests and the waning interest of the international community has been a huge let down.
Do you see yourself as a Human Rights Defender?
The title of Human Rights Defender is well-earned by prominent Human Rights activists in Bahrain like Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Zainab Alkhawaja. Due to this, I could never claim such title for myself. I am just one of thousands of people in Bahrain who feel responsible and want to be positively involved in the movement in anyway possible.
How do you perceive the current situation in Bahrain?
The situation has started to be more independent where the 14February youth movement was decentralized without any leader, all parts of society came together; people were more independent, all their ideas were their own without having to pass through any filters. This is something that caught the regime by surprise as they assumed that by arresting known leaders the revolution would stop, yet it never did.
The continued attacks on 14February Youth protests made some people feel that the government authorized protests called by political parties became a safety blanket. Now the situation has changed so the government is not granting permission for political parties to protest anyway which in turn has allowed political parties to rebel against the government rule and continue calling for the protests. These protests continue to be brutally attacked and members of political parties have been severely injured. This has actually helped to unify the opposition (political parties and 14Feb Youth) after the regime tried to split them apart.
What do you want – outcome based?
I want freedom and democracy for my country and my people. I have seen the discrimination from a very young age but I was never aware of the severe human rights violations because the regime did not allow such reports to be found easily. The 14Feb Revolution happened and it was the biggest wake-up call for Bahrainis. The first time I visited the Pearl Roundabout was on the 15th Feb, I wanted to understand the reasons behind it and to try to assess the situation and then “Bloody Thursday” forever changed me and made me join the people’s movement fully.
I took time off work to spend my days at the Pearl Roundabout and I witnessed a variety of people, how organized they were, the tents that were created for women so that they could be educated about their ICCPR rights. This all happened almost instantly, there was a corner for everyone: artists, a makeshift theatre for plays, musicians played openly, children’s causes and rights were discussed, medical stations were set up, unions came together, lawyers debated, engineers, politicians all had something. This gathering signified freedom in a small part of Bahrain, there was freedom of expression for the first time.
We want the international community to apply the same rules and judgment to the violations of human rights in every country equally, especially in the gulf countries. On May 2011, Obama gave his first speech addressing the Arab Spring and since then it was clear to many Bahrainis that he will be siding with the regime. This practice is evident since the US administration waited until the very end of the Egyptian revolution to make a decision as to whether it would support the revolution or not based on who was more likely to succeed and not on who deserved to.
Besides, the recent $53 million arms deal between US and Bahrain, the people have started building resentment toward the US administration by saying: “The barrel of a gulf oil seems to be more important and expensive that our lives.” And I don’t blame them.
What risks do you see are posed on your everyday life?
I risk being attacked or arrested at any moment like everyone else who speaks up in Bahrain. Whenever I hear the doorbell at an unexpected time, especially very late at night, I assume that it’s the police, but then I quickly remember that they would break in if they were going to come after me. My family fears for my safety but I fear for them more than I do myself, especially my Mom. I don’t tell her or the rest of my family the details of my activities, as it would only worry them, especially after they have heard and witnessed the abuse that happens to women.
What is a normal day in the life of…Ahlam Oun?
I work from 8am – 5pm Monday to Friday at an international organization. I studied telecommunications engineering and have been working for 5 years. At first, I was not a member of any society, group or political party as I am a project-based person I work on anything I am needed. I am mainly a youth activist, working with youth with disabilities and youth development. I am involved in different projects and volunteering activities and I use any skill I have that might be helpful to the cause like writing in English, translating, developing websites, documenting and blogging.
I make appointments to meet different families of the victims to get their stories and blog about it on my website “Making Noise”.
I don’t have a fixed schedule, since many events and protests are announced spontaneously. I also enjoy socializing with other activists to discuss current events and to recharge our spirits.