Bahrain: Land of the Brave, Not of the Free

It’s a well-known fact that the Government of Bahrain attempts to systematically muzzle its critics through arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and judicial abuse. Thousands of individuals languish behind bars because calls for reform in Bahrain are perceived as threatening to the regime’s grip on power. In recent months, this has led to a new wave of persecution of human rights defenders in Bahrain, including arrests of high profile activists.

On August 30, Maryam al-Khawaja was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer. The government released Maryam, but she is now in de facto exile outside of the country and set to face trial, presumably in absentia, in November. On October 1, the Government of Bahrain arrested Nabeel Rajab on account of remarks he made on Twitter that the government deemed “denigrating to government institutions.” Nabeel’s trial is set for October 19; if convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.

Then, on October 14, Maryam’s sister Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested for exercising her right to freedom of expression. At 8-months pregnant, and in the face of almost guaranteed reprisals, Zainab’s fearless act of civil disobedience exemplifies the courage of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Zainab’s case was immediately raised to the Higher Criminal Court, where she faces a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and a 10,000 BD fine.

The arrests of Zainab, Maryam, and Nabeel represent a renewed campaign against human rights defenders in Bahrain and reveal that the government’s insecurity is so great that it is unable to tolerate even a Tweet or the tearing up of a piece of paper. On October 17, 2012, Zainab Tweeted, “I spent 2 months in prison for tearing up Hamads pics, and I will do it again. And again… #Bahrain #KingsTornPics”. She has remained true to her word, and in doing so shows that Bahrain, while devoid of many freedoms, is not empty of individuals who are willing to stand up for human rights.

Andrew Godziek is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB