Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on Hungerstrike in Bahrain

I started writing a book, a few years back. It's about how I became 'an activist' and some of the wonderful people who have inspired me along the way. The writing was going great until a series of tragic world events and injustices really occupied all of my attention, but I'm back on it today, jumping forward to the chapter about Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja of Bahrain. The reason being, as I write, he is on hunger strike, for the second time, and he may not live much longer, so I feel an urgency to write about him so some more people might know what a great man he is, before it is too late. Here is this chapter:

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Writing in the hope that your words might in some way help change events that could save a great man's life, brings a new kind of pressure. Every word becomes important, must be chosen carefully, must be the best that one can find. If only I could just write that one piece which touches hearts so much that it might change lives, make a difference in the world. This man, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is one of those great people who does that with his words, his speech, his spirit: he touches hearts, brings hope for a better future, for justice. He changes lives.

On the 8 February 2012 Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja began a hunger strike, until "Freedom or Death". It was to take him to the very edge of death. It lasted 110 days.

I had been campaigning for human rights in Bahrain the previous year, in particular for a group of medics who had been tortured and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for treating injured protesters. I had heard about Abdulhadi and had followed the news about his hungerstrike, but I didn't really know a lot about him. Well I knew that he had the label 'political prisoner', arrested on 9th April 2011 for his alleged role in a peaceful uprising which called for democracy and human rights. I knew that he had been brutally tortured and then sentenced to life in prison. I also knew that he was father of inspirational human rights defenders Zainab Alkhawaja @angryarabiya and Maryam Alkhawaja @maryamalkhawaja as well as husband to an incredibly strong lady Khadija Almousawi @tublani2010. I guess I knew the facts, but I didn't truly understand the love that the people of Bahrain held for this man, I guess I felt no great connection. You see, whilst I was happy to campaign for medics punished for doing their jobs, the term 'political prisoner' I think scared me. Whilst I certainly believed nobody should be imprisoned for a political belief, in reality I felt that everything in politics is dirty, and Bahrain's politics were really none of my business, and probably best avoided.

But my feelings changed on the 5th March 2012, when I awoke in tears during the night, following a vivid dream. It touched me deeply, connected me with the love people felt for Abdulhadi, of which I had previously been just an observer, so much so that I wrote the dream down the next day:

"I had a dream last night that Al-Khawaja died. He was hanging from a thread and the thread broke. Everyone looked in horror at Zainab, who was called Maryam, and saw her pale face. But she looked up the thread to Heaven and smiled. Then she turned to everyone watching her and told them it is ok, he is at peace now, his suffering has ended and she knew where he was. And then there came a huge sound of cheering and celebration from the angels in Heaven. Huge celebration that you could hear all across the earth coming from the skies. And all the mothers who had lost their children took comfort from knowing that such a great man was now with them too. And so did all the young men who had lost their friends take comfort and lose all fear of death. And everyone felt great peace."

Above all, this dream helped me to understand one thing: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a truly great man.

The weeks following, I followed his hungerstrike with a new sadness and a resignation as to what I felt was to come, because for sure this man was so strong he would never give in, and the Bahraini regime were showing no sign of compassion that might bring about his release. For them, this peaceful man was far too great a risk, his spirit too strong, they feared the change his freedom might bring.

I hung on to every tweet of his daughter Zainab, who often relayed messages from him in his prison cell. This was one beautiful card that he wrote for his family during that time:

"My dear and beloved family, from behind prison bars, I send to you my love and yearning. From a free man, to a free family. These prison walls don't separate me from you, they bring us closer together. Our connection and determination is stronger than ever. We take our strength, from beautiful memories. Remembering every trip, every meal we ate together, all the conversations, remembering every smile, all the jokes and the laughter. The distance between us disappears, through our love and faith.
It's true: I am in here and you are out there. But, you are in here with me, and I am out there with you. Our pain is made more bearable when we remember we chose this difficult path and took an oath to remain on it. We must not only remain patient through our suffering, we must never allow the pain to conquer our souls. Let our hearts be filled with joy, and an acceptance of the responsibility we have been given, for in the end, this life is about finding a path of truth towards God."

One day Zainab tweeted the following story, which was later made into an animated video:

"On the 30th day of my father's hunger strike, an officer at the prison approached his cell. Seeing him weak and very thin, the officer said 'Why do you strike? You should be happy that your conditions have improved. At least you are not in solitary confinement any more. At least the torture has stopped.' My father smiled with his kind eyes and looked up at his jailer. He then told the officer this story: 'You know, as a child I learned of two kinds of birds that are oh so very different. The first is the nightingale. Put a nightingale in a cage and feed it and what beautiful songs it will sing for you. Open the cage, let the bird out, and it will go right back when it is hungry.' The officer stared at the prisoner, listening intently to his story. My father's eyes lit up and he continued, 'But then, there is the wild bird. Put it in a golden cage, provide it with the best food, and you will hear no song. Come back in a few days and you'll find the bird at the bottom of the cage, dead. For this bird you might cry. You might say: 'A golden cage and all this food, how could it die?' But what you don't understand, what you don't understand is, the wild bird can never live in your cage. Never. Golden or otherwise.' My father continues his hungerstrike to this day, for all our freedom."

My dream was slowly eating away at me as I asked myself whether it was for any reason. Why have such a dream? If he was going to die, then he was going to die, and there was nothing I could do to change that. But then it dawned on me, perhaps he might die, or perhaps he may live, really only God knew that, but one thing I knew for sure was, this was a great man wasting away in prison, and the least I could do was to help spread the news and tell people about him. This feeling that I should at least try to do something grew stronger, until 16th March when I decided to write a letter to him and post it to my blog:

Dear Mr Alkhawaja,

You don't know me, and I never met you. I live in the UK and I've never even been to Bahrain. But I just wanted you to know that your peaceful resistance against oppression and your struggle for human rights has inspired me, and I know many other people around the world too.

I understand you are in the final days of a hunger strike, to 'freedom or death'. I know you are a great man that does not fear death, and after the way you have been treated I wouldn't be at all surprised if you'd had enough of this world. I also know that the angels will be having one huge party the day you join them in Heaven.

But I just wanted to tell you that if you die it is going to be a huge loss for mankind. I hope and pray you will hang on and give us a little more time to help get you out. There are a lot of people now working hard in different countries to try and secure your release and news about your struggle and suffering is spreading all the time.

Love and prayers,

Ms Frankie Dolan (that was before I changed my name to Jamila Hanan)

I invited some of my campaigning friends to do the same, to write a letter too and to post them to Twitter with the #DearAlkhawaja tag. We also faxed our letters to the prison - who knows if they were ever read, but that didn't matter somehow.

They are beautiful letters, I hope you might take the time to read some of them too:

From @ElaineMasons 17th April

From : @Taranta3 17th April (in Arabic)

From @JohnHorneUK 20th April

From @mirandadiboll 21st April

I also found this letter written earlier on 7th March, from his friend @PWLMcAdams

On 19th April, 3 days before Formula 1 was due to make its debut race in Bahrain, Abdulhadi decided to stop all intake of fluids. This meant he would likely die very soon, as he was already extremely weak. The day following, on 20th April 2012, this was tweeted by Zainab his daughter @angryarabia
  • Urgent: My father called now, he asked us to try and get him an urgent visit by his lawyer to write his will 
  • He said, if they won't allow the lawyer to see him, he has three things he would like everyone to know
  • 1st: he is completely convinced in what he is doing, and that he has chosen this path & wud choose it again if time goes back
  • 2nd: he asks that nobody attempts to go on a similar strike til death
  • Finally my father said "if I die, in the next 24 hrs, I ask the ppl to continue on path of peaceful resistance...
  • My father continued "... I don't want anybody to be hurt in my name"
  • My father has stopped drinking even water since yesterday
  • As my father finished saying his will to us, the line was cut. He did not say goodbye
I recall the day of Formula 1's debut race in Bahrain, 22nd April 2012. The drone of the engines whirring as motor cars raced around the track competing with the cries for freedom and democracy outside, amidst thick clouds of tear gas. Crowds of up to 500,000 demonstrators clambered to get the international media to focus on their suffering, for just a moment, putting up a valiant fight to stop the Formula 1 racing in Bahrain. "It's nothing to do with us," said F1 chief Bernie Eccleston to the media, "You guys love it. What we really need is an earthquake or something like that, so you can write about that now." I felt sick.

As usual, I was safe at home in the UK, following the whole thing from my armchair. My son and husband love the Formula 1, so I couldn't force my views on to them and ban the race from our television. I could hear the race as I followed the demonstrations on Twitter. My body was in England, but my heart and mind could almost smell the burnt tires from the circuit mixed with the tear gas from thrown at the demonstrators; oil, sweat, tears and blood merged into one.

It was very noisy, that's what I recall. And yet all I could really think about was Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, in a quiet prison cell, possibly taking his last breaths, alone.

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja on hungerstrike, 2012

The next day I broke down in tears and sobbed as I felt that he had passed away. A dear activist friend was there the other side of Skype sharing the grief. But we had no way of knowing. Even his family did not have any news - they knew that he had been taken from his hospital bed, but to where exactly, nobody knew for sure, and many of us feared the worst.

On the 23rd April I made him a card, which we also faxed to the prison, goodness knows if it was ever picked up, but taking the time to cut out the card, make a simple flower, send a message of love, somehow brought relief. I also wrote a blog post, about 'the hero I love'. I have a belief, when I feel I can do nothing else, I can (and must) at least blog.

After that I picked myself up. I just had to do more. We had to work on the basis that he was still alive. The world had to know who this great man is, and if he was to die, then we had to make sure that he did not die in vain.

On 24th April I asked my Twitter friends if they would join me in raising awareness. We wrote some actions for people to complete, which we called #Action4Khawaja. The first tweet was asking Sky News to cover the story. I asked for 10 people to join me in completing the action - which they did. The next tweet was to the BBC, in which I asked 15 people to complete the action. Following that, 20 of us contacted Channel 4, 25 contacted Cameron, 30 CNN, 35 Obama, 40 Aljazeera, 45 Kofi Annan, 50 Desmond Tutu. The 10th action was initially to contact Nelson Mandela - but after emails were returned stating he had retired and was no longer in good health, we instead each lit a candle, said a prayer, sat in silence.

The candle I lit each night for Abdulhadi

I started to fast, in solidarity with his hungerstrike, just eating and drinking at night time, like we do during the month of Ramadan. At the end of each day I lit a candle. Perhaps for the first time I  started to pray with diligence, 5 times a day. It was for me a spiritual time of reflection and perseverance, a time during which I really started to understand the true meaning of love and sacrifice. I felt for the first time the kind of love that I have often wondered about in this verse in the Bible: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'. John 15:13 When I knelt down in prayer and my head touched the floor, saying the words سُبْـحانَ رَبِّـيَ الأَعْلـى I felt that love, its was tangible, ran down my spine, through my veins, like I have never felt so strong before.

Following #Action4Khawaja we encouraged people to tweet their own spontaneous actions which others could support, and then on 27th April we wrote another set of 10 actions using the tag #Act4Khawaja By that time there was a group of up to 50 of us writing. We sent messages and emails to Prince Charles, Richard Branson, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nick Clegg, Terry Waite, Donald Trump, Dmitry Medvedev, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Brad & Angelina. The idea was partly to cause as much embarassament for the Bahraini regime as we could. The writing in itself was the campaign, any responses were a bonus.

On the night of 27th April, exhausted, I wrote this blog. "#Bahrain I did my best". But had I really done my best, had I really done everything that was in my capacity to do?

Over the next few days I asked the people of Bahrain to tweet me their thoughts about this great man and I compiled their responses into a number of 'Storify' stories. I hoped these might help people to better understand why Abdulhadi was held in such high esteem. I hope you will read these tweets and be inspired like I was too:

28th April This is Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja hero of #Bahrain
28th April The Life + Work of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrai
28th April Memories of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja of #Bahrain
28th April Messages to Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrain
29th April The Life + Work of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrain
29th April To the Family of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrai

Fond memory: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja with Nabeel Rajab before he was arrested in Bahrain
On Sunday 29th April, one week after the Formula 1 race, we received word from his wife that he was still alive. That was such a huge relief. She had been allowed to visit him for the first time in two weeks, but what she learnt was also most disturbing. Abdulhadi had been drugged on 23rd April and taken away to be force fed, which is a form of torture in itself. For those who don't believe it is torture, I encourage you to watch this video to see exactly what it involves. I should warn you, the video is disturbing, I could not watch it through to the end.

But Albdulhadi Al-Khawaja was still alive, and whilst he was alive, there was hope. Together with friends on 30th April we started a somewhat crazy campaign of writing to random people to ask them to do something to help secure his release, say by writing a letter, or publishing a statement, or even writing a song. We called it #Write4Khawaja

We chose people together, at random - anyone that somebody suggested, we tried to contact them. We looked up their agents, emails if we could find, contact forms, Facebook accounts and Twitter. Some of our suggestions on who to contact were a bit mad, but mad was good. Every day we added more people to the list and reached out to them all. We wrote to all these people and organisations:

George Soros, Paul McCartney, Mia Farrow, Russel Crow, Steven Spielberg, Samuel Jackson, Elton John, Bob Geldoff, Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Will i.Am, Jim Carrey, Richard Gere, Spike Lee, Martin Sheen, Sting, Michael Moore, Oprah, Bill Clinton, Joe Bidon, Annie Lennox, John McCarthy, Vanessa Redgrave, Sami Yusuf, Michael Heart, Yusuf Islam, Morgan Freeman, Erin Brockovich, Will Smith, Angela Merkel, Outlandish, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saoud, Shakira, Ellen DeGeneres, Maher Zain, Al Gore, Christine Lagarde, Michael Phelps, Charlie Clements, Eddie Grant, Keanu Reeves, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, JamesOrbinski, Romeo Dallaire, Jane Fonda, Rowan Atkinson, Julia Gillard, Warren Buffet, Imran Khan, Boyce Avenue, Ariel Dorfman, Maya Angelou, JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Paul Coelho, The Elders, Catherine Ashton, Jared Leto, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Osbourn, Charlie Rose, Piers Morgan, Lesley Stah, Melinda Gates, JimmyCarter, Mary Robinson, Marri Ahtisaar, Michael Stipe, Friends of the Earth, the ICTJ, Youth for Human Rights, FreedomHouse, Global Exchange, the IHRC, Protection Internationa, the OMC, Witnes, Peter Gabrie, Adel, Cherie Blair, Jack Straw, Minister Lavro, Mr S.M Krishn, the Vatican, Dr. Michael Spindelegger FM of Austria, Dr Nassirou Arifari Bako FM of Benin, Hillary Clinton, Global Solutions, AED, PM of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chen Xiaodong, Gareth Peirc, Jean-Louis Carrèr, Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, Dean Allison, Andreas Aebi, Koichiro Gemba, the UPR, Richard Ottaway, John Kerry, Ruprecht Polenz, Bob Carr, Abiodun Williams, Bruce MacDonald, Daniel Brumberg, Patrick Meier, Jared Cohen, the USIP, Steven Heydemann, Stephen Krasner, Qamar-ul Huda, Robin Wright, the CDP, Omar Offendum,President Hollande, Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Hisashi Owada, Dalai Lama, Ray William Johnson, Muhammad Yunus, Ted Turner, the UN Foundation, Big Hass, Susan Rice, VCNV, Kathy Kelly, Peter Singer, Youssou NDour, Noam Chomsky. 

We were fishing, thowing lines anywhere we could, hoping we might catch a big fish somewhere in the world. Some people responded, most did not, but we kept on writing, heartfelt personalised emails, not just about Abdulhadi but also about the stories of persecution on that little island, of which there were many examples, and little by little awareness was raised, not just for Abdulhadi but for all of the people living under oppression in Bahrain. Of course we weren't the only ones campaigning. Also hard at work were Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Frontline Defenders, as well as other organisations. The story started to receive increased media coverage, and together, alongside the people protesting in Bahrain (who never stopped - they were out every day, every night with their banners) we started to bring some pressure on the Bahraini regime.

On 22nd May, Abdulhadi, having been kept alive through forcefeeding, appeared before the Supreme Court of Appeal, and gave this speech:
"Gentlemen, President and members of the honorable Supreme Court of Appeal,

Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before your venerable selves, as I have been deprived of this right throughout the previous stages of the litigation. Kindly note that my statement has been excluded during the investigation as a result of me being subjected to torture.

I, the Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, have been subjected since the April 9th 2011 to arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, psychological and physical torture, sexual assault and unfair trial, without having committed any offense for which I deserve legal punishment, in addition to torture and other violations criminalized by international and national laws. Please note that I do not belong to any association or political group, though this is not an offense in itself but rather a natural right of any human being.

These current and previous violations were in fact motivated by the thorny, difficult path which I have chosen, that is to defend human rights, not only as a matter of specialization and career – given that I am a researcher and trainer in this area – but also that I have decided that my duty is to stand with the oppressed and the victims of various abuses to which they are exposed, disregarding the risks and reactions of those who perpetrated such violations. Thus, my activities and practice involved serious issues such as political and financial corruption, arbitrary detention, torture, the privileges of the ruling class, sectarian and ethnic discrimination, as well as other topics including poverty and the right to human dignity, adequate jobs and housing, and the rights of foreign workers.

And if at the beginning back in the eighties my activity involved volunteering with the "Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain”, which is considered a wing of one of the opposition political groups, it has, however, been shifted at the beginning of the nineties into working completely independent through founding "The Bahrain Human Rights Organization," which played a fundamental and decisive role in bringing Bahrain out of the era of security of the State, through its activities in Western capitals in collaboration with the United Nations and international human rights organizations. I am honored to have gained then my second nationality when I became a political refugee in the Kingdom of Denmark, which ensured my freedom, dignity and shelter when I was facing persecution in my country of Bahrain. However, I never hesitated in returning to Bahrain in 2001 when I was allowed to, and there I continued carrying out my duty in education and training on human rights issues in Bahrain and abroad, assisting victims of violations to embark on a peaceful movement to demand their rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting human rights violations. As a result, the price I have been paying throughout the past ten years was facing physical assaults by security forces, arrest, detention, unfair trials, smear campaigns, and travel bans. This was the case even during the period from November 2008 to February 2011, during which I worked as a regional coordinator for Frontline Defenders, a leading international organization - based in Dublin and Brussels - which focuses on the protection of human rights defenders all over the world. The fact that I have resigned from my post as president of "The Bahrain Center for Human Rights" before undertaking my work at the international organization; which was not relevant to the situation of human rights in Bahrain – did not make any difference; for an overwhelming spirit of revenge was motivating those who have been targeted by my previous activity due to their responsibility in relation to the perpetration of violations through their positions as security and political officials, as well as them suspecting that – under cover -I have been using my international work to provide aid to local activists in Bahrain.

Abdulhadi at work, speaking for human rights, in 2007

Then came the events of February 14th, and the subsequent declaration of a state of national safety to make it the right opportunity for revenge, especially that after I witnessing all those dead and injured in the first few days I decided to resign from my international post and to dedicate myself to full-time voluntary work in Bahrain to contribute to the popular peaceful movement and ensure its effectiveness in attaining rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting violations that occurred during the events. To these ends I took part in seminars, delivered speeches and participated in various meetings that were attended by representatives of political associations and groups, including political and civil rights activists, and jurists; in my capacity as an independent human rights defender. Those meetings were held at the headquarters of political associations and residents of political figures, and they were not secret and did not intend to establish new groups or create working plans, they were merely a platform for consultation and exchange of opinions in the midst of escalating and serious events.

It was soon the time for retaliation; after midnight on April 8th 2011 – i.e. three weeks after declaring the state of national safety and granting the military and security services authorization to kill and use excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture, which led in some cases to death. That day, while I was spending the weekend with my wife, daughters and sons in law, heavily armed forces surrounded the building where my two married daughters live, and without warning or warrant, it broke into the building and knocked down the door of the third-floor apartment, then a group of masked security men started beating and kicking me in all parts of my body while dragging me down the stairs. In addition, my hands were cuffed back and my eyes were blindfolded before putting me in one of the cars, when I received a severe blow on the left side of my face with a metal object. This caused me to fall on the ground while severely bleeding due to deep cuts close to the left eye and a number of fractures in the jaw, cheek and nose, prompting them to transfer me to "Al-Qal’a" first then directly to the military hospital where I received stitches and underwent a complex surgery to address bone fractures. x-ray images show about 18 plates and about 40 screws that were used to join fractions.

I stayed at the military hospital for six days, during which I was kept blindfolded and handcuffed to the bed in a painful manner that prevents me from moving. A group of people would come over each night and verbally abuse me and touch my private parts. I was told that they had arrested my daughter Zainab, and after they had done what they wanted with her they had transferred her to a prison in Saudi Arabia. One of them informed me that he was the one who had given me the blow to the face and that there was “more where that came from” after I am moved from the hospital. He also told me that a large man will be waiting to rape me. Instead of a recovery period of three weeks at the hospital I was transferred on the sixth day to a distant place where I learned about two months later that it is “Al-Qareen” military prison.

In AlQareen, I was put in a dark solitary cell for about two months. All guards and nurses were masked. I did not have any contact with the outside world, nor was I allowed to go out in the sun and fresh air. I only had a sponge in the cell, as well as very dirty pillow and blanket. I was only allowed to take a bath after ten days. My head and body bore bruises and bloodstains.

During that period, I was unable to eat anything except for liquids through a tube, and I received medications pertaining to the surgery I had and the resulting pain. Despite that, starting from the second day of my stay in prison night doses of torture began. A group of masked individuals would come after midnight and start horrifying the prisoners through screaming and cursing and hitting the cells’ bars, then they would enter the cells one after another, and subject the detainees to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Each one of us could hear the screams of pain and suffering of those who are in the other cells.

Abdulhadi after police beat him at a peaceful protest in 2005

Among those whom I came to know in nearby cells are Mahdi Abu-Deeb, president of the Teachers Association, and the lawyer Mohammed Altajer, and an Islamic scholar, Mr. Mohammed al-Musawi. I used to hear the screams of other detainees in other cells but I could not recognize their identity.

The torture that was inflicted on me during that period included, continued standing with lifting the hands for many hours, beating the back of the head with a heavy tool, blows to the back, beating on the back of the hands with the door lock, beating the feet with shoes, forcing me to kiss pictures of the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia which were put on the cell’s walls, forceful removal of clothing, sodomizing using sticks, indecent insults related to dignity and religious beliefs, forced self-cursing, forced declarations of loyalty to the political leadership, especially the Prime Minister and the Head of the Defense Force, under the threat of beatings and rape.

As a result, I went on hunger strike on the third day in prison, and refused also to receive any medications. This led to further beatings. On the sixth day I was taken to another building in the prison where I was beaten with plastic pipes on my toes and feet to force me to put an end to the strike, or sign a paper stating that I refuse to take food and medicine. Then I was transferred to and I received two units of intravenous infusion. Someone who speaks an Arabic non-Bahraini dialect (a doctor or a nurse) threatened that he will force the tube from my nose to the stomach or puncture my abdomen in order to directly feed the stomach if I insist on continuing with the strike. I have indeed suspended the strike on the seventh day after receiving assurances that torture will stop and that my request to see the doctor who performed the operation is to be met, as I was very concerned about the swelling of my face and not being able to move my jaws. Torture, however, did not stop, and I had to repeat the strike twice in protest of torture during the following two weeks for several hours each time, but the beatings and torture took place in the cell before and after the investigation sessions. At the end of the third week of arrest I was examined at the prison premises and in the presence of prison guards by a forensic doctor, and he hastily took note of some injuries that were still visible on my face, hands and feet. During those same days I was taken twice for interrogation by the military prosecutor where I was subjected to insults and beating during transport to and from the building of military prosecution and at the premises before and after I was entered to talk to the investigator. The shackles and the sac covering my head were only removed while in the interrogation room.

Violent and degrading treatment reoccurred throughout the in following months each time we were taken to attend the court hearings at the National Safety Court. Transportation was undertaken by military police. On one occasion I was singled out of the group as one of those who "will be executed", and they made me hear sounds of arms. Prior to the first hearing at the Military Court, on 7/5/2011 to be specific, an exceptional incident of torture took place. I was allowed to shave and get a suit which had been sent by my family. Late in the evening I was taken by four individuals in a small car to a building located about 15-20 minutes away from where I was held, and there I was seated at a table, my handcuffs were removed as well as the blindfold. I found myself sitting in an elegant office with a young man in civilian clothes, who identified himself as "Sheikh Saqr," a personal representative of the king of Bahrain. He wanted to hear directly from me about the events and the charges against me. The interrogation went on for about an hour and a half, and he eventually asked me if I want to appear on a recording by a television camera which was already prepared, and to apologize to the king for what I did. I told him that I have not done anything to apologize for.

Afterwards I was blindfolded again and taken to an adjacent room where one of the people who brought me there told me that I am sitting on a bed and that they will not beat me, but they will do all other things unless I agree to the apology recording. They proceeded as one of them put my hand on his penis another touched my back with his penis, and put his hand on my derriere, then they started to take off my clothes. I could only do one thing. I eluded them, and hit my head with the ground until I was unconscious. I woke up to find myself in the car traveling at high speed. I was carried and brought back to my prison cell. My forehead was swollen and so was the left side of my face where previous fractures were located. For three days compressors and pain killers were used. On the following day I was visited by the doctor who had performed the surgery and saw how bad my condition was. He demanded that I be transferred immediately for x-rays, but this was only done several days after, and through the transfer of radiation equipment to the prison. I did not see the doctor before a long time, and he only revealed his face to me after about six months. I then knew that he is Dr. Mohammed Al-Muharraqi.

The second incident took place during the second military court hearing, when I demanded the right to speak and was denied that right. I said that I have been subjected to torture and that I was threatened not to mention that to the court. The judge ordered that I be taken out of the courtroom, and I was abused on the way to prison. I was punched, kicked near the gate of the prison and made to stand with a sack on my head and my arms lifted upwards for about an hour. I was then threatened inside the prison “You will see things you haven’t seen yet if you talk again in the courtroom.”

The third incident was on 22/6/2011, at the National Safety Court of first instance, when, after the judge read out the verdict sentencing me to life imprisonment, I shouted and said “We will continue our struggle for freedom and human rights”, and the other defendants were shouting the slogan “A peaceful movement, A people demanding freedom”. We were then taken outside the court premises, handcuffed and beaten with batons by members of military police. my face was hit against the wall and I was bleeding from my the top of my nose. I was also beaten on my joints, bottom of spine, thighs, and wrists. Since I was handcuffed, this caused me to bleed from my wrists. And as I was trying to protect my face, one of them purposefully hit me on where I had surgery for facial fractures until my hand were swollen. We were then taken to the waiting room, and were seated on the floor and they stepped on our backs and shoulders wearing their shoes. When the injuries I had became evident to them I was transferred to the emergency room at the military hospital for treatment. leading the group of guards who took me to hospital was major “Abu Ahmad”, the officer in charge of military guard.
Protest in Bahrain

As for my trial before the National Safety Court, the one of first instance and the exceptional court; the court listened to the main prosecution witness, a national order officer who did not have any proof or evidence to support his false allegations pertaining to establishing an organization and plotting to overthrow the regime and the incitement of violence; and held that his sources are secret and that he cannot reveal them. The two other witnesses were national order officer Badr Ibrahim Ghaith and his assistant, who were in charge of my arrest. Their testimony aimed at justifying the severe injuries that I incurred during the arrest. On the other hand, I was not allowed to speak, and my lawyer was not able to call witnesses to testify; his demands to call the forensic doctor or the surgeon who operated on me in order to obtain the medical report were also ignored. He was further prevented from presenting his oral account. The verdicts were already prepared, and I was handed a life sentence.

After that came the report of the Royal “Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry”, which confirmed the abuses to which I have been subjected to, and mandated doctors examined the medical reports, to document all violations that were inflicted on me as detailed in this speech. My case, as well as the cases of other individuals from the same group, were quoted several times in the report, and a summary on my case was outlined under item no. 8 among the cases attached to the report. The report and its recommendations concluded that grave violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, solitary confinement, psychological and physical abuse, and unfair trial; have occurred. The report denied any legal basis for my arrest and continued detention. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights along with a number of international organizations studied the case file and found that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Then came the court of cassation verdict of 30/4/2012, stating that the National Safety Court verdict does not outline the crime elements, neither in its Mens rea nor its Actus reus, and is therefore “a void verdict that should be reversed”.
Amnesty demonstration in Denmark, April 2012
In light of the aforementioned facts, I propose the following:

First: there are no legal grounds for my continued imprisonment, especially after the occurrence of injuries has been proven through medical and forensic reports, and the confirmation of arbitrary arrest torture and unfair trial in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry report, and reports of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and international human rights organizations which affirmed that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Second: The file in the court’s possession lacks any decisive evidence that links me to the charges in question. Everything that has been presented against me is in fact evidence that supports my acquittal, as they are speeches in which I express my opinion without inciting violence, but rather repeatedly emphasized peaceful work. Then the court of cassation verdict concluded that the crime elements are incomplete.

Third: Given the previous facts, I have began a hunger strike more than a hundred days ago in protest of my continued imprisonment, and I was willing to give away my life to declare disapproval of this injustice to which I and others were subjected, and to demand freedom. The authorities, instead of responding to those fair demands and address the perpetrated violations of my human rights, reacted by confining me for over one month at the military hospital in a state comparable to solitary confinement, and imposed forceful feeding on me through the use of anesthesia, and feeding me through a tube from the nose to the intestines, and the use of intravenous infusions. My demands insisting on going back to prison were only met when I agreed to a program of fluid intake, along with explicit threats that I will be admitted again to the military hospital and forcibly fed in case my health deteriorates, and this constitutes forcible feeding against international laws. I hold political authorities and this court accountable for any danger I might face in the few coming days as a result of my continued hunger strike.

Fourth: I reaffirm the statements that were presented in my defense before the first instance National Safety Court and the National Safety Court of Appeal, as well as the Court of Cassation, as an account of defense in this appeal, and a reference. I also demand that all medical reports and other detailed reports by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry be added as well, in addition to this speech.

Fifth: That I am in this case the victim for defending the rights of others. Those responsible for violation of my rights are the ones who should be brought to justice and punished.

Sixth: Acts of retaliation have targeted members of my family. On the same day when I was arrested, both my sons in law (engineer Wafi Kamel Al-Majid) and (Hussain Ahmad) were arbitrarily arrested, even though they were not otherwise wanted. They have been subjected to psychological and physical torture, and fabricated charges were brought against them, then they were tried in order to justify their imprisonment for one year for Wafi, and six moths for Hussain. My wife was dismissed from her position as a supervisor in a private school in a degrading manner and no explanation was made for this act, in breach of the simplest due process. My sister Fatima Al-Khawaja and her husband Rashid Abdul-Raheem from their positions at the Bahraini Radio without legeal grounds, and they were reinstated only a few months ago. My other sister Huda Al-Khawaja, who runs a law firm in Kuwait and undertakes training; had her passport seized for several months without legal grounds. The element of retaliation in obvious in this case, and this necessitates that there be serious and credible mechanisms to reveal the truth and rectify all injustices to which I and my family were subjected to, and bring those responsible for these violations to justice.

Please accept my highest consideration and esteem.

Abdulhadi Abdullah Al-Khawaja 22/5/2012"

Our campaign ended on 28th May when news was confirmed that he had decided to end his hunger strike after 110 days.

The Bahrain Center for Human rights reported "Abdulhadi Alkhawaja...decided to stop his hunger strike due to continuous force feeding and because he had been successful at bringing international attention to the situation of political prisoners in Bahrain."

Sadly, the High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of Abdulhadi on 4 September 2012, and since then, not a lot has changed in Bahrain. Human rights abuses continue on a daily basis.

Regarding my activism, in June 2012, I was alerted to the tragedy of the genocide against the Rohingya taking place in Burma, acts against humanity of which the world was blissfully unaware. I took on that cause actually after the great inspiration that I had received from this man, his dear wife Khadija, and daughters Zainab and Maryam. But recently I learnt that he has begun his hungerstrike once more, on 25th August 2014.  Today as I write it is day 23, nowhere near the 110 days he reached last time. But this time he is refusing to go to the military hospital for treatment, where they drugged and forcefed him last time. And this time the world really is very quiet, quiet about Abdulhadi, quiet about his daughter Maryam who has been arrested also after she tried to go back to Bahrain to visit her father, quiet about the hundreds of prisoners still detained for calling for their rights, and quiet about all the abuses that continue in open view as well as behind closed doors.

Abdulhadi with his wife Khadija

Whilst writing this chapter, I ploughed through old emails, blog posts, tweets, to refresh my memory and check on dates. It was painful to read, because we had tried so hard for his release, and yet failed. What more could we do? Should we do the same again? What might we have missed? One thing was for sure, doing nothing was not an option, I would never live with my conscience. I looked on Twitter for some inspiration and checked to see if any of his family might be online. His dear wife Khadija Almousawi @tublani2010 had just tweeted the following message:

"To all those who r working for cases like my Maryam's case and Hadi's case and c that things go backwards instead of forward
To those who r trying their best for this world to b a better place and work hard day & night to save people like Maryam & Hadi
And instead of seeing them free get to know that this gov. Doesn't mind Hadi going blind cus of low blood sugar
Or my Maryam being transferred to a higher criminal court on fake accusations I plead don't lose hope & keep working towards
A better world. I c this kind of act from these regimes to b act of weakness & not otherwise and braveness I c in Maryam & Hadi.
Keep working for a better world. Mayb Maryam & Hadi will not benefit of it but I am 100% sure that others will in future.
It's not the result that should satisfy us but how many people r ready to stand for the rights of others that counts.
Tonight when I was coming home I saw some kids who had their faces covered and were printing Hadi's picture on the wall.
These kids want a decent life with dignity. U out there and these kids in here want a better world. A better world for all.
Ur work out there and this small but very risky act of these kids give a person like me hope. Not that I approve that they get
arrested and tortured for printing a picture on the wall but that they want the world to know that they exist and have demands
I thank everyone who stood or still standing for the rights of others and continue believing in a better world. THANK U."
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja at a peaceful demonstration before he was arrested

At the time of writing, on 17th September 2014, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is in prison, on day 23 of his hungerstrike. If when you read this, he is still on hungerstrike, or still in prison, but alive, please do something, even one thing. Maybe write to a politician about his case, or your local media, or the Bahraini regime, or anyone else you can think of. Please also send a tweet using the #FreeAbdulhadi tag and post this to your Facebook.

A final message from me, is to the regime in Bahrain, and those who support the regime. I'm not begging you, that would be something Abdulhadi would never do, but I am asking you, human to human. Please open your heart to this suffering. Please look within you for some humanity that may bridge your differences. Please remember compassion and mercy. These days are terrible times for so many. One million of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Burma, the Rohingya, are facing genocide. In Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh over 5 million of our brothers and sisters have been hit by terrible floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands and washed away homes and belongings. In Syria, well, you know what is happening, I can hardly begin to write about the suffering there, and I could go on, but you know these times are terrible times. Recently however I heard some wonderful news, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan has decided to lay down their arms and to embrace peace, because that is what their nation needs, and so do we all. In Bahrain, whether you agree with calls for democracy in your nation or not, I hope you may come to realise that within your prison is a great man of huge courage who thinks only of the suffering of others. Please do what you can to help free this man, find compassion, compromise and bring healing. His death would be a great loss, not just to Bahrain, but to the whole of humankind.

UPDATE: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja came off his hungerstrike the week after I wrote this post. He was concerned for other prisoners also on hungerstrike with him who had started to faint. He remains in prison at the time of writing (21/10/2014) and says that he will take part in a further hungerstrike sometime in the future.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Cooking Together For Flood Victims - how about it?

I tweeted this:

As of writing, one day later, it has well over 1,000 retweets and nearly as many 'favourites'. Rapidly turning into one of my most popular tweets ever. How wonderful, that people of all faiths really, really want to see this kind of news! And just have a look at some of the beatufiul comments:

But now here is the truth: Sorry, I made a mistake. Apparently they are all Sikh in these particular photos. I misread some the captions on the original photo essay, which you can see at the bottom of this article here (one of them stated it was in a mosque and there were other captions regarding all faiths coming together, so I hope you will forgive me, it really wasn't my intention to put out false information). And yes there were a few other comments too that I didn't include here, of course some corrections, but also a few nasty tweets where people took offense to a story of unity - but those tweets were in the minority. There is a saying 'empty vessels make the most sound' - those voices of hate, there aren't that many as it may first appear, out of over 1,000 retweets there were just a couple of cold replies, and even less hate replies (actually just one or two, of which one was anonymous).

And here is another truth: lots of people really, really want peace and unity and care more for humanity than they do our differences. And it's not just hate that sells - look at this tweet - people loved it! Media should take note of that. Now usually I would delete a tweet where I had made such a mistake - mistakes happen and I've made a few over the years, and I've always deleted previous mistakes, but this one I chose to leave - at risk of damaging my credibility (of which I am always quick to point out I had none to lose in the first place). I'm leaving it because I just love the message of hope that this brings. I'd be really grateful if you could also share this, my apology, so people don't feel misled, and also to give the Sikh community credit where it is due.

Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs ARE working together: Over the past few weeks I have seen wonderful things happen on social media where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and people of no faith have indeed come together and worked together to co-ordinate relief efforts - and its even happened that activists who really disliked the army have been working with the army to do the best for the people at this time in need. These things ARE happening. I've seen ALL communities working together and alongside each other - ok so maybe they are not actually sitting down in the same kitchen cooking the same food - maybe I saw what I wanted to see - but wouldn't that be wonderful too?

Finally, a challenge: Can you make it happen? Can you bring people from different faiths together, to work together on a project for humanity? If you can, please email or tweet me your photos and I will tweet and blog them - this is what many people of the world really want to see happen, so how about it? You can email your photos here: or tweet me on @jamilahanan

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Quran does not 'invoke beheading'.

On 2nd September 2014, The Telegraph published an article entitled "Where does the Islamic State's fetish with beheading people come from?" by Shashank Joshi
It began with this paragraph:
"Why does the Islamic State engage in beheadings and crucifixions? Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, but only the most extreme Islamic militants carry it out in the modern day."
It then went on to explain beheading as a weapon of terror in psychological warfare and to discuss whether it was logically speaking an effective strategy, the discussion of which I have no particular issue, but many people don't get past reading a headline and the first paragraph, and here I strongly object and lay out evidence to prove it is factually incorrect to state that the Quran invokes beheading.

I feel this is particularly important at such a time because these acts of barbarism are indeed horrific and must be stopped. I accepted The Quran as truth some ten years ago and I strongly believe that these young men who commit such atrocious acts are a victim of their own ignorance. Such ignorance needs exposing and Muslims everywhere need to be clear amongst themselves and to the wider community that beheading (and other acts of barbarism) play no role whatsoever in Islam and in fact stand against everything Islamic which has at its core a message of 'salam' (peace) and humanity.

I therefore asked the author via Twitter where in the Quran he was referring to regarding the invocation of beheading.

Shashank replied that 8.12 is the most famous example. He also pointed out that the term he used was 'invoked' not 'endorsed' and then went on to explain (in reply to someone else) that the Islamic State claims scriptural legitimacy.

But I believe that the Islamic State has no scriptural legitimacy at all regarding such an act, rather the opposite, and whilst the act of beheading is certainly 'not endorsed' in the Quran, it is not 'invoked' either.

Definition of Invoke
: to mention (someone or something) in an attempt to make people feel a certain way or have a certain idea in their mind
: to refer to (something) in support of your ideas
: to make use of (a law, a right, etc.)

Fist let me start with the verse at 8.12 in the Quran, but let's look at it in its entirety rather than take part of a sentence out of context which has been misinterpreted. This verse is from a chapter entitled 'Battle Gains' in which famous The Battle of Badr, is discussed in which it is known the Muslims were greatly outnumbered, and yet the Muslims won. This surah was sent to remind the Muslims, after the battle, that it was God (not might) who brought them victory, despite their lesser numbers.

This following translation is by M.A.S Abdel Haleem:

[8.9]"When you begged your Lord for help, He answered you, 'I will reinforce you with a thousand angels in succession.' [8.10]God made this a message of hope to reassure your hearts: help comes from God, He is mighty and wise. [8.11]Remember when He gave you sleep as a reassurance from Him, and sent down water from the sky to cleanse you, to remove Satan's pollution from you, to make your hearts strong and your feet firm. [8.12]Your Lord revealed to the angels: 'I am with you: give the believers firmness; I shall put fear into the hearts of the disbelievers - strike above their necks and strike all their fingers.'

This was clearly God talking to 'the angels' regarding striking the disbelievers with fear. It was certainly not a command for the Muslims to start chopping people's heads off. This passage is mentioned here as a reminder to the Muslims, after the battle, that it was God who put fear into their opponents, which resulted in the outcome of victory to the Muslims.

Later on in the same chapter the Muslims are commanded to incline towards peace as soon as those attacking do so:

[61]But if they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing.

There is a second verse that I found is often referred to in the Quran when talking about beheading, surah (chapter) 47:4. This chapter again deals with the difficult issues of war - something the peaceful amongst us, including I, would rather avoid - but the Quran does not avoid guidance on the most difficult of matters which are very much a part of the world.

The translation by M.A.S.Abdek Haleem reads as follows:

[4]When you meet the disbelievers in battle, strike them in the neck, and once they are defeated, bind any captives firmly - later you can release them by grace or by ransom - until the toils of war have ended.

There are those that argue this is an instruction regarding the face to face combat specific at that time, during battle, and that the order was not to behead but 'strike in the neck', and if it was to behead then why would the verse then talk about what to do with the captives (since if they had been beheaded they would not be alive). I think this is valid argument and this alone should give one serious food for thought before concluding that Islamic scripture invokes the beheading of non-believers - or anyone at all at any time for that matter.

However, regarding this particular scripture, I think there is another translation that has not been considered. I must confess at this point that I am not a scholar of Arabic, rather I have a basic knowledge of the Arabic alphabet and basic vocabulary, but I find the Quran Word By Word site extremely helpful and I have also read several discussions regarding interpretations and explanations of key words regarding this and some other controversial verses.

For a word by word translation of 47:4 see here

It is the words at 47:4:5 and 47:4:6 that I suggest may be translated differently to all current translations that I could find, that would be more in keeping with the theme of the rest of the verse which talks about what to do with prisoners of war. The word 'fa darba' فَضَرْبَ here is translated as 'then strike'.  The word 'darba' stems from the route drb ض ر ب and can actually be translated in many different ways depending on context I have come to learn (as can many/most Arabic words). It is the same route as that which is used to describe the striking/parting of the sea by Moses in 26:63:5. One different translation I have come to understand that could be applied in this instance is 'to separate'.

The exact word 'l-riqābi' الرِّقَابِ, here translated as 'necks', is used in two other locations in the Quran and on both those occasions it refers to slaves/captives. Similarly, raqabatin رَقَبَةٍ is used in 6 locations and in all cases it refers to slaves/captives. In no other place could I find this word to mean 'neck' in the Quran, it therefore seems much more fitting that this word be translated in this instance as 'captives'.

The translation I therefore suggest as a more correct translation is:
'So when you meet those who disbelieve, separate the captives until you have subdued them'.
(Note I am as of yet undecided on the correct translation of the word here translated as 'those who disbelieve' but that is not the key point in this discussion).

Furthermore, I suggest that this entire verse talks about the protection of captives, rather than taking revenge on them, as the following verses go on to explain that God could have ordered punishment for them but didn't, so as to test us, and that we don't need to worry about those Muslims who have been killed since their deeds will not be forgotten and they will go to Paradise.

After reaching this conclusion and nearly finishing this post, I came across this, which actually suggests almost exactly the same translation as I:

It is taken from this discussion on the topic of 'wife beating' which is also an area that has been mistranslated and misunderstood, and certainly not condoned in Islam (although a topic for another day).

I love Islam, because it is a religion of humanity and peace. It is the religion where you say 'Salam' to the people you meet, even when someone annoys you, especially to the people that annoy you. It is the religion that encourages you to repel evil with something good. It is a religion that considers killing even one human being as being equal to the killing all of mankind. It is the religion that warns you of the risk of Hell for even the maltreatment of an animal and forbids even the cutting down of trees during war. When I come across a preaching that goes against peace, the wholeness of humankind, the importance of every single man, woman and child regardless of colour or status, the respect for every person regardless of religion, the protection of minorities (I could go on) then I instinctively know it is wrong and if it is based on scripture then there has been an elementary misunderstanding or mistranslation of that scripture (which will always happen when reading with a closed heart, due to the vast range of the Arabic language and political objectives).

I know there are several other disputed  verses in the Quran that people use to try and suggest otherwise, and in the coming weeks insha'Allah I shall attempt to address some of those verses too.