Human Rights Defender Profile: Mohammed al-Maskati of 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.
Mohammed Abdulnabi al-Maskati is a Bahraini activist and the current president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), a leading group in the 2011-2012 Bahraini uprising. On November 27, 2007 the president of the BYHRS, Mohammed Al-Maskati, appeared before a lower criminal court judge to answer charges of “operating an unregistered association” under the terms of the 1989 associations act. Al-Maskati asserted that the act was inconsistent with Bahrain’s international commitments as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The judge adjourned the trial until January 2008, and Al-Maskati was not taken into custody. The BYSHR remains active.
How did you become an activist?
Ten years ago when I was 15 years old I was a computer programmer for websites and I was asked to do the website for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). Before publishing the material on the BCHR website I had to read it and this is when I learned about the situation and became interested in the situation in Bahrain. I went to Yemen to attend training on basic human rights and mechanisms. In 2004, when BCHR’s Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arrested and the organization dissolved I started the Bahraini Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) without permission but I accepted all the legal responsibility. In 2007, I was charged with running an illegal activity but continued my work anyway. These proceedings continued until 2009 in which case I was fined US$1,500 in June 2010. Most human rights organizations know me and that I focus on non-violent strategies and youth programs.
I am still the President of the Bahraini Youth Society and am also working on digital security. I train other human rights defenders on how to protect their digital communications i.e. twitter, websites, blogs, etc. and with other organizations in the region. I trained with Frontline [Frontline Defenders, an Irish-based NGO] and now I work with different local organizations in Lebanon, Kuwait, Yemen and Egypt as a freelancer.
How do you perceive the situation in Bahrain?
Following the Bassiouni Report we were hopeful that the Government of Bahrain would respect human rights, instead they increased the human rights violations, arrests and torture of protesters. The situation for injured people is worse, the injured cannot go to the public or private hospitals for fear authorities will track them down and detain them. The authorities are not respecting the recommendations suggested in the Bassiouni Report.
What do you want?
A constitutional monarchy, equality, no discrimination against the Shia in the military sector, to be able to elect our own Prime Minister compared with the unelected Prime Minister who has been in office now for over 40 years, and to fight against corruption and discrimination. The demands of the people are changing because of the escalating violations where they are now calling for a change of the regime. Human rights defenders are not supporting the protestors or the government but are calling for the respect of human rights as their main aims. Their policies are harsh especially with the imprisonment of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and [another leading human rights defender] Nabeel Rajab.
What risks do you perceive in your everyday life?
- Government propaganda against human rights defenders – arresting human rights defenders and turning the media against us; accused of having relationships with the U.S. and Israel to support their policies in the Middle East as a tactic to discredit our work; propaganda affects our work with pro-democracy forces and publishing it on twitter.
- Government trying to affect the human rights defender reputation with rumors about human rights defenders with sexual relationships to discredit their work especially for the women = “smear campaigns”.
- Family – authorities are not only targeting human rights defenders but their families too, my wife is also being targeted. They attack you, your reputation and your family.
What is a normal day in the life of Mohammad Al-Maskati?
I usually get up at 4am and I start tweeting around 8 or 9am. After that I follow up with the community at the BYSHR and ask them to send me daily reports on the works completed. I have a medical team helping the injured people, I have them report on the latest injuries and how they happened etc. I touch base with the lawyers who are part of the BYSHR and ask what they are doing. I talk to the monitoring team, as I am responsible for reviewing and reporting on statements until the afternoon.
Every night I will try to attend some form of protest or speech which are usually in a different village. I try and educate people about human rights and the work of human rights defenders and that they must keep it peaceful. I will visit the villages from around 5pm until around 10pm. I meet with different kinds of people to discuss the current situation in Bahrain. Most of the protests that I attend will get attacked. We always try to keep the protests peaceful. The greatest risks are from the civilian police who are taking pictures and videos of my speeches and giving orders to other police to track my activities. It doesn’t affect me but I worry about the women and children who participate in the protests. I always tell the organizers of the protests to have a back-up plan to help the elderly, women and children be able to escape first in order to protect them and move them out immediately before any of the security forces arrive on the scene.