“What the ladies did”—Bahraini Women Speak Out Against the Regime
Activists Zainab Al-Khawaja, Asma Darwish and Sawsan Jawad were arrested at a sit-in last Wednesday at the United Nations House in Manama, Bahrain. The three women brought a letter addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging the international organization to take immediate action to ensure the release of all the political prisoners, the end of military trials on false charges, the investigation into the allegations of torture and accountability to those found guilty. They planned to stay at the offices until the UN brings justice to the political prisoners of Bahrain, and refused to leave the premises after the end of the working hours. “What the three ladies did was a crime” said the General Director of the al-Manama Governorate Police. He added that “legal measures” were taken against the women due to their violation of an article of the penal code law. ‘What the three ladies did’ was in fact to bravely speak out against an oppressing regime, not only standing up for their families but also for the human rights and freedoms they believe in. Zainab, Asma and Sawsan were soon released. But they continue to suffer, like hundreds of other Bahraini families, because of the crackdown on calls for democratic reform in the Sunni-ruled state. Each has at least one close relative in detention. Zainab, who went on hunger strike earlier this year in protest of the crackdown, was allowed a six minute reunion with her husband Wafi on Friday, and brought their one year old daughter Jude along. Zainab had repeatedly been denied visitation rights ever since Wafi’s arrest in April.
As for Zainab’s father and former leader of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, he suffered from torture while in detention—leaving him with four facial fractures that required a major surgery. He is one of 21 people sentenced today in military court for myriad criminal charges including plotting to topple the regime with the aid of a foreign terrorist organization. Abdulhadi and seven others were sentenced to life in prison. At the sentence reading, Abdulhadi was beaten in public and removed from court after he cried out that Bahrainis will continue their fight for their rights. Zainab chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greater) in protest of her father’s treatment and was then violently taken out of the court and detained. She was charged with contempt of court but was later released after forcibly signing a pledge. Like Zainab, Sawsan’s father is also in detention. 64-year old Jawad is perhaps the oldest political prisoner in Bahrain. He has been very vocal against arbitrary detention and torture, which he is now himself a victim of, according to his statements at the military court.
Wednesday, the day of the arrest, marked the 12th day of Asma’s hunger strike in protest. Her brother, photographer Mohammed Darwish, told her on Monday during their first meeting since his arrest that he was tortured and had been hospitalized. Bahraini women have been defying social norms in a traditional Arab society and assuming leading roles in fighting for their rights and urging reform. Another female activist, 20-year-old Ayat Hassan Mohammad al-Ghermezi, was detained after reciting a poem criticizing the government during the democracy protests in Pearl Square. But unlike Asma, Sawsan and Zainab, Ayat was not released quickly. She was brought before the military court and sentenced to one year imprisonment for participating in “illegal protests for criminal ends,” incitement and insulting members of the royal family. Following her arrest on March 30, reports indicate that Ayat was severely tortured: she says she was whipped across the face with electric cable, held for nine days in a tiny cell with the temperature near freezing, and was forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands. “Our cases are not unique, there are hundreds going through the same or even worse,” said Asma, Sawsan and Zainab in their letter. The fates of those in detention and those who have already been sentenced show the truth of that.