Profiles: Maryam al-Khawaja

Maryam al-Khawaja human rights activist in Bahrain faces years in jail for her activist work. (Photo Credit: Egyptian Streets)
Maryam al-Khawaja human rights activist in Bahrain faces years in jail for her activist work. (Photo Credit: Egyptian Streets)

Today we are presenting our monthly feature titled “Profiles”, in it we will be presenting an activist that inspires us and who is actively working in different fields and communities across the globe against social injustices and human rights abuses.

This month we are profiling Maryam al-Khawaja. Ms. al-Khawaja is from Bahrain and she is the Co-Director for the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

Since February 2011, after popular demonstrations advocating for equality for the Shia population in Bahrain, the government, led by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa heir of the Al-Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain since the 18th century, has tightened its grip on freedom of speech and it has increasingly developed laws to punish activists, including a 2013 royal decree suggesting a set of revisions to the 2006 Law of Protection of Society Against Acts of Terrorism, later backed by the Bahraini National Assembly, in which denaturalization and removal of citizenship are suggested punishments against Bahraini citizens accused of terrorist acts. This decree was later enforced by a July 2014 set of amendments to the country’s citizenship laws.

In 2013 activists launched the “Wanted for Justice in Bahrain” campaign which is aimed at “ending the climate of impunity which has seen leading human rights defenders arrested, tortured, denied due legal process and sentenced to lengthy prison terms after unfair trials”. One of the arrested human rights defenders is Ms. al-Khawaja’s father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who is serving a life sentence for his peaceful protests and denounces against the abuses committed by the Bahraini government.

Maryam al-Khawaja has engaged in intense international advocacy and support against human rights violations in Bahrain that has affected fellow activists including her father and sister Zainab al-Khawaja. Speaking to Human Rights Watch before her arrest Ms. al-Khawaja said that her work is one of being “amplifiers” saying that “where people are not heard we take their voices and carry them to the outside”. Ms al-Khawaja focus has been on pressuring Bahrain’ closest commercial and political allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, into focusing on the human rights abuses in the country.

With almost 3,000 political prisoners, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain is one of the largest holders of political prisoners in proportion to its population, around 1,200 million people.

On August 30th, 2014 Maryam al-Khawaja was denied access to Bahrain, on her way to visit her ailing father, due to the removal of her citizenship and furthermore she was arrested on charges of insulting the King, participating in the “Wanted for Justice in Bahrain Campaign” and assaulting a policewoman. Following her arrest she was not granted permission to contact her family for a period of 12 hours or access to a lawyer for a period of seven days, clear violations of due process and international human rights.

Ms. al-Khawaja initiated a hunger strike on September 12th and was released on September 18th not being able to leave the country and she is awaiting conviction on the charges raised against her for which she faces several years in prison, Ms. al-Khawaja has denied the accusations.

Before her arrest Ms. al-Khawaja spoke to Human Rights Watch and expressed her reasons on why she was returning to Bahrain saying that “change comes from the inside” and expressed candidly that international support against the abuses was slim saying “we are in a position where international reaction to the human rights situation right now is worse than what it was when I started out traveling form one country to country and meeting with governments asking them to have a better position on human rights in Bahrain”.

For her tireless efforts, endurance and strength we support Maryam al-Khawaja, her family and thousands of activist jailed and in exile. We hope that change comes soon enough.

You can follow Ms. al-Khawaja through https://twitter.com/MARYAMALKHAWAJA.

For more information on Bahrain follow the Bahrain Center for Human Rights http://www.bahrainrights.org

And the Gulf Center for Human Rights http://gc4hr.org

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