Maryam AlKhawaja asks “What happens when the cameras are gone?”

With the race now over, Maryam AlKhawaka, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, writes for The Independent:

There are those who say that the Formula One should not be canceled, but instead used as an opportunity to get media attention for the situation on the ground. It is true that media attention is not only appreciated, but also crucial to improving the situation on the ground in Bahrain. The question is not whether Bahraini’s benefit from the media attention which will highlight their plight as they continue their struggle for rights and freedoms, but rather what takes place during the race – and more importantly, what happens after the cameras are gone.

Salah Abbas Habib was well respected amongst the protesters. He was a father of four young children, and their only provider. During last year’s race, he was stopped by security forces, severely beaten, and shot with pellets. His dead body was found the next morning.

A group of minors were arrested in April 2012 in preparation for the Formula One. Some of them were thrown off the roof of the house they were in. They were reportedly severely beaten, which in some cases amounted to torture. They remained in prison until June that year. Some are currently in hiding, because they are wanted by authorities. Others are in prison after getting sentenced. The plight of these minors did not stop with the end of the race.

On the afternoon of the April 18, 2013, security forces arrested four children in Bani Jamrah. One of these children was 13-year-old Mahdi Salah Al-Khawaja. When Mahdi was just 11 years old, security forces pointed a gun to his face as they raided his family home. He then watched as his father was beaten severely, taken up to the roof, thrown off, then taken away. His mother was taken into a room and sexually assaulted. His father was subjected to severe torture then sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, which he continues to serve today. Mahdi has been traumatized for two years, and today he was arrested, hit on the head and held at a police station for several hours.

The question then, is not whether the media attention accompanying the race is important or not, the question is who will compensate the victims of this race for the price of getting that attention? When the cameras are gone, the crackdown intensifies as revenge, and the world is no longer paying attention; who will take care of Salah Ali’s children? Who will provide a safe place for the minors on the run? And who will hold Mahdi’s hand if he’s afraid of the dark?

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Protesters marching to site of Pearl Square reportedly teargassed

Two pictures, taken within the last hour, reportedly show protesters attempting to march to the former site of Pearl Roundabout (map) and then subsequently being attacked by tear gas. This post will be updated as more details come in.

Pearl Roundabout (aka Pearl Square) was occupied by pro-democracy demonstrators in February and March 2011 until government forces violently removed the people and demolished the monument. Now referred to by the opposition as Martyrs’s Square, it is under tight military control. Yesterday, the February 14th Youth Coalition called for a march to the site, beginning at 3pm local time. Maryam AlKhawaja, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, tweeted earlier: “According to people on the ground, huge security presence in villages close to what was Pearl Square in an attempt to prevent march.”

PearlSquare_March_20-4-2013

PearlSquare_March_Teargas_20-4-2013(Pictures via @ahmedali_)

February 14th Coalition call for march to Pearl Square site on Saturday

Maryam AlKhawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, reports:

One protest video from Wadyan in Sitra tonight shows dozens of youths marching in “preparation and anticipation” for Saturdays march to what is now called Martyrs Square.

The February 14th Youth Coalition take their name from the date when the popular pro-democracy uprising began. Pearl Square (actually Pearl Roundabout, but renamed to echo Egypt’s Tahrir Square) was a central site for the protesters. In a recent article on the symbolic significance of Pearl Square, Amal Khalaf described the events:

On 14th February 2011 tens of thousands of people joined in a demonstration resulting in the Pearl Roundabout’s occupation. As traffic stood still, the international media came to witness the Gulf’s answer to the ‘Arab Spring’ and overnight, the government had lost control of it’s carefully constructed image of a ‘Business Friendly’ Bahrain, as news networks broadcast images of the Pearl Roundabout surrounded by protestors demanding reforms. A circle was named a square. The naming of the roundabout as Pearl Square or Midan al Lulu in the international media, though initially seen by many Bahrainis as a laughable and ignorant mistake, soon became appropriated by some protestors, who saw it as an underlining of the roundabout’s new figuration as a ‘civic square’ or midan.

The unprecedented occupation of the ‘square’ became front-page news internationally as Manama was brought to a halt. Within days, there were attempts by the state to quell the growing protests with tear gas and other threats of force culminating in a violent crackdown on the roundabout at 3am on 17th February 2011. Over four days, there were hundreds of injuries and seven civilian deaths. This harsh response surprised and radicalised many who had witnessed the events either first hand, in the international media, or through hundreds ofshaky, panicked mobile phone videos posted on YouTube. Yet despite this heavy-handed repression, many defiantly returned to the roundabout, now a site of trauma and renamed Martyr’s Square or Midan Al Shuhada by some.

After a month of protests, martial law was declared. The Bahrain-Saudi causeway rumbled with the sounds of hundreds of tanks of the Dr’a Al Jazeera or Peninsula Shield.  For the last time, the roundabout was cleared by force, main roads leading up to the roundabout were sealed off and villages were kettled by armoured vehicles. Days later, in a spectacularly reactionary move, Bahrain’s State TV replayed scenes that would within minutes circulate the digital mediasphere. As the country watched from their phones/homes/computer screens, the Pearl Monument exploded into a pile of bones over the ruins of an occupied ‘square’.

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4 children arrested in Bani Jamrah reportedly beaten; another beaten in Karzakan

Maryam AlKhawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights at BCHR, reports that four children were arrested today in Bani Jamrah. They were released around 9pm local time “after reportedly getting beaten”.

One of the children arrested was Mahdi Salah AlKhawaja, aged 13. Mahdi is the nephew of Maryam’s father, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, an internationally renowned human rights defender and current prisoner of conscience. Mahdi’s father, Salah AlKhawaja, is also a prisoner of conscience. Both men were arrested, tortured and sentenced in 2011 at the height of the government crackdown against the pro-democracy movement. Mahdi was present when his father was arrested. Khadija Almousawi, who is Abdulhadi’s wife, tweeted the trauma that he went through at the time, aged just 11:

We have just heard about the arrest of Mahdi Sala Alkhawaja, 13 years. My husband’s nephew. A very quiet kid. His father is in jail.

When Bader Ghaith came to arrest Mahdi’s father 2 years ago, he pointed his gun on Mahdi’s head and asked him: “Where is your father?” When they found the father in the next room they took him to the roof. The mercenary police asked Bader Ghaith: “should I bring him or throw him down?” Ghaith said: “Throw him.”

Mahdi was only 11 then. His father was thrown from the roof while Mahdi and his younger sisters were watching. Mahdi’s mother shouted at Ghaith. They went to her started beating and kicking her. And she was sexually harassed. All that and the four kids were watching and crying.

Now Mahdi’s mother has to suffer her little boys arrest when her husband is in jail. How will she spend the night only God knows?

In a separate incident, Said Yousif Almuhafda, head of monitoring and documentation at BCHR, reports that a “boy was beaten by riot police in Karzakan this afternoon”. He shared this picture:

Beating_Karzakan_18-4-2013