Tag Archives activism

Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab

Bahrain Human Rights defender Nabeel Rajab

I know Nabeel Rajab personally. I have very high respect for him and his ceaseless work to defend human rights and his activism in that regard. Everything I’ve read about him so far supports my conviction that I have not misread the man. The claims levied against him of violence instigation amongst a plethora of other baseless accusations do not wash. I am fully convinced that he is innocent and he is serving a jail sentence now in an effort to silence his severe criticism of the regime; something that this country’s very constitution protects.

Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience.

He did nothing more than stand fast for his lawful convictions and as such must be released unharmed and left to continue to practice his own human right of self expression without interference. Those who’ve imprisoned him must know that imprisoning him will not silence the growing dissenting voices in this country or abroad, what that does, in fact, is solidify Nabeel’s image as a worthy national hero.


The Twitter Embassy

Two articles have been published over the past few days about the pioneer bloggers in this area of which I am privileged to be counted as one. The first article written by Sultan Al-Qassemi and the other published just today by Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri in his daily column in Al-Wasat newspaper in which he too asserted the role that these bloggers have played over the years in shaping self-expression and speech in the Arab world specifically.

While both should be thanked for their excellent articles and thoughts, I suggest that some attention should also be paid to the others who are shaping opinion on Twitter whose effect far outstrips that of many bloggers combined; those ladies and gentlemen are the politicians and other opinion formers who are normally not as approachable as they should be in real life, understandably so of course, their agendas and meeting schedules are probably filled for years to come, and in order to secure an appointment with them might take weeks to find that crack in those agendas where one might squeeze in. But in the Twitter world, they are as available and approachable as any other person simply because they choose to utilize those precious seconds between their appointments or from what little time they give themselves to relax in to dedicate to interacting with their countrymen and others around the world.

I’ve written about these people a few months ago – just days before the Bahraini revolt – in a “Twitter, or the Olive Branch” in which I identified a few of those I admire for their social media activities, chief amongst them are:

Twitter has become the activists’ best friend and confident. To me what’s as important, is the direct connection it offers to people who could actually effect change, and if they can’t at least they are veritable influencers in their spheres to move issues into resolution or focus timelines. Through Twitter and its 140 characters, people from all walks of life can directly communicate with influencers like our very own foreign minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, as they could too with US President Barak Obama, the US State Dept, the United Nations Secretary General, Carl Bildt, Kevin Rudd and the British Foreign Minister William Hague. Most of the ones listed above actually tweet themselves or are very aware of their channels, therefore, what better chance is there for us plebs to affect our circumstance by not only following, but engaging with these forces? I don’t think this state of affairs is going to last long, sadly. As Twitter and its influential tweeps bloom, it’s only natural to expect that the direct channels to wane.

Now that I think of what I have written then, the availability of these influencers is more important than ever. No matter how you view these people and regardless of whether you agree with them, their continued availability in Twitter especially is very welcome. The reason is as simple as why warring countries keep their embassies open in each other’s countries. How else could those warring countries even consider peaceful overtures if they can’t transmit them through those communications channels?

While I don’t suggest for a minute that Bahrain is at war, it is extremely important to understand – and yes, support, these influencers to stay within this open virtual space using their own names and positions in order for them to be much closer to a wider section of society. This does allow them to immediately understand the “street’s” feelings and hope that through this awareness, they will be in a better position to transmit those needs and feelings to those in power to influence them enough to effect change.

Therefore, to me, I must confess my utter disgust to witness some who fancy themselves as “activists” use this space to destroy such an important bridge which could be used for helping the whole country by working as a pack to attack someone like our foreign minister amongst other influencers in government. The ethics of democracy and discussion which they are calling for day and night should be respected and as such, these stupid attacks must stop. They are only doing possibly irreversible harm to their own cause. I am relatively sure; however, that Shaikh Khalid and hopefully others in his position understand that these attacks are mounted by simpletons who do not represent the people who do want to take this country to a better, more equitable platform to be enjoyed by all.

Understand that I’m not calling for handling these public figures with kid-gloves, far from it, they can take much more than what has been levied so far I suspect, but ethics must be respected in order to portray grievances in a sphere on which some action can be taken, rather than because of crudeness, legitimate causes be discarded and discredited.

I admire Shaikh Khalid for having the required thick skin to ignore these attacks and doing the astute political thing of not engaging with them. How long he will stay to take that kind of abuse is another matter altogether; for had it been me I would have probably escaped Twitter and closed my account a long time ago. He, I know, is better than me and is with a wider and more tolerant heart.

My friends, temper your attacks and choose your battles wisely. Refrain from childish attacks on the very bridge who can help your cause. The last thing we want at this important juncture in our country’s history is to continue to shout at each other, rather than find the platform to engage and talk to each other to fix the situation and move forward.


The Conscience of Bahrain’s Environment

Posted on

How many of you haven’t heard, read or seen the work of Khawla Al-Muannadi?

Like thousands like me, us Bahrainis think that she epitomizes the conscienceless of the Bahraini environment. Through her work, columns and appearances she reminds us of the dying palm groves, the soiled sea, the suffocating mangroves and the urbanization that is threatening indigenous wildlife and their habitat. Her passion alone awakens in us that yearning for times gone by and pushes us to demand that the remaining environment be protected.

Khawla Al-Muhannadi’s journey started with an epiphany in 2000 and has since achieved a lot in the short 10 years to bring environmental awareness to the fore of the public’s consciousness and to even the policymakers’ agendas. She has written many articles, started a children’s school in which the environment is a central theme and campaigned for the environment in various situations in Bahrain.

Her ways and methods raising the awareness of the need to protect the environment has been adopted in many areas of he world. So much so that when they refer to it, they now proudly call Khawla’s method “The Bahraini Environmental Experiment”. This experiment is recognised and lauded in various venues around the world and she and the Environment Friend Society – the society she inaugurated – has been invited to various high level environmental conferences around the world to share their experiences.

The lady is full of passion for the environment, extremely charismatic and a true modern Bahraini leader who is full of zest and a clear love of this country.


Witch hunt continues unabated

Posted on

7 more people have been detained by the Public Prosecutor under the guise of the recently announced “protecting our values” as determined by the Prime Minister. This time, 3 of those investigated are writers for Alwefaq’s political party’s publication, the remainder are connected apparently with the already banned sites.

Raise your hands if you think this is a clear abuse of power and yet another attempt at silencing criticism cloaked in “protecting our values” thingy.


It’s the UAE’s turn to imprisson online publishers

Posted on

Here we go again:

UAE online forum administrator sentenced to prison
Earlier this month, on August 8th, Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi, an online forum administrator in the Emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE) has been sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of nearly US$ 13,600 (Dh50,000) for content deemed defamatory published by anonymous on the popular forum board he moderated majan.net (suspended).

It has also been reported that the department of e-government services managed to access the forum’s control panel looking for registrants email addresses. And it seems that this has led to the arrest, on August 19th, of a forum registrant, Khaled El Asli.
GlobalVoices Advocacy

Why is this, I hear you ask?

الدكتور هاشم الرفاعي مدير عام دائرة الهيئة الالكترونية في رأس الخيمة أكد ان المنتدى الالكتروني أغلق درءاً للمفاسد حيث كان يطرح بعض القضايا التي تمس الخصوصية والتدخل في الحياة الشخصية ناهيك عن السب والتشهير.

وأضاف الدكتور الهاشمي ان التقنية تحتاج إلى تنظيم والحرية تحتاج إلى توجيه، موضحا ان الجانب السيئ للجوانب التقنية يكمن في عدم تحفظها، وإدراكها للجانب الاجتماعي المدني وما يمكن ان يترتب عليه مضيفا ان إغلاق المنتدى جاء بسبب الحوادث الكثيرة التي اشتكت ضده مؤكدا ان العقاب يردع كل المسؤولين عن المنتديات الالكترونية ليتجنبوا تلك الطرق في طرح المواضيع مشددا على أن الفرد إذا أراد إيصال آرائه فيمكنه ذلك بطرق رسمية أخرى متاحة ككتابة رسالة أو إرسال فاكس أو عن طريق قنوات البث المباشر مؤكدا أن المسؤولين يتقبلون تلك الطرق ويولونها الأهمية.
الخليج – Google translation of full article

What is essentially happening is that an anonymous commenter entered a perceivably defamatory comment and the forum moderator got it instead. Making true the local adage that if you can’t handle the donkey, break the cart! Or in Dr. Hashim Al-Rifa’i’s words – who heads the eGovernment Department in Ras Al-Khaima, a small and almost forgotten emirate in the UAE – if you have a complaint, you had better write a letter or send a fax! I wonder what his “eGovernment” initiative is like, it must be better than the telex technology, don’t you think.

He must also fully believes in the Big Red Switch which he and his government must have been ecstatic at activating against this new fangled thing called the Internet.

The situation in the whole Middle East is quite tenuous now and publishing anything on the internet is getting quite scary.

Well needless to say that I support Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi’s right to freedom of speech and that he should not to be held responsible for comments entered in his electronic publication; therefore, ask for his release and exonoration from those ridiculous charges he has been imprisoned under.


Why is ‘Sorry’ such a difficult word?

I’m not sure why this is the case, and am not sure why is it so difficult to understand that in order to move forward as a society some truths must be recognised and reparations made.

Iman Shwaiter at the Truth and Reconciliation workshop at Waad

Iman Shwaiter crying in memory of her husband (Hashim Al-Alawi) who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by Bahraini security forces in the 90s this was during a workshop on Truth and Reconciliation by 11 political societies, human rights organisations and activists in Wa’ad’s premises on 23 June ’07

Sayid Alawi Sayid Hassan at the Truth and Reconciliation workshop at Waad

Sayid Alawi Sayid Hassan with his nephew Mohammed Al-Nasheet (left) assisting him to speak of his suffering at the hands of State Security’s apprehension, imprisonment and torture.

It is an inescapable fact that every single on of us Bahrainis knows of the torture stories which were prevalent in the 70s through the 90s. Every one of us probably has a relative who suffered at the hands of torturers resulting in either deep psychological scarring or in more than 40 cases, death.

We also recognise that some violence perpetrated by citizens resulted in unfortunate ends, be that causing the death of individuals or damage done to property.

In either case, why shouldn’t an independent commission be convened to open those festering wounds, clean them up and restitch them again so that they can heal properly and we can move forward with our lives? In almost all cases a word of recognition and apology is all that is required. Even if monetary reparation is to be done to the people who suffered, that compensation should be paid in order to invest in a better future.

These feelings are one major source of strife in Bahrain and I am surprised that they are not ameliorated by the inaction of proper programs to relieve that pain.

Yes, some would argue, as has already been done, that the National Charter and the General Amnesty Law are enough. I contend that they are not as they came from one side only. They most definitely provide the basic framework from which redress and reconciliation could be started; however, truth should be sought and facts broadcast in order to recognise the depth of the problem and work toward resolving them.

We have ample examples in the world which we can emulate. South Africa is the most successful attempt at proper truth and reconciliation and so is the Moroccan commission to a large extent. We should learn from them and not just hide our head in the sand by stating that those are “foreign experiments” that we should simply ignore. If we accept that attitude, we might as well forget about all the planned reforms as they all depend on foreign experience to ensure their success!

So come on, for the sake of Bahrain, let us just get this much needed commission inaugurated and give them all the tools that they require to out truths and seek reparations in order to insure a better, fuller and more cohesive Bahrain.



Red taped social responsibility

Posted on

As a human being, when you see a rock on the road that might impede your neighbour or fellow human being and you could move it to the side, I am sure that the majority of people will just move it spontaneously. If they can’t, they’ll try to warn people about it and maybe try to get the municipality to come and remove it.

If you see a bird stuck in a net, you would untangle it and set it free.

If you saw a thirsty dog, I am sure that a lot of people will stop and try to find it water.

If you saw a person lying on the ground dying, or in pain, you would at least try to call an ambulance to help.

You would do all of the above on the spur of the moment. There is no need to think about what you are going to do, for the most part you would just get on with the job of helping, then deal with any other surrounding circumstances (call the BSPCA to collect the dog, investigate why that net was there in the first place, find the cause of why that rock was there and try to ensure that doesn’t happen again, etc.).

But what if your own society is suffering, sick and dying? Would you not try to get to the cause of that ailment and try – as an individual and then group – to do something about it?

All of the above falls under the social responsibility of the individual and group. None of the above should require a permit to perform good and ameliorate pain. For in those actions you elevate the individual and society.

My personal belief is that I would not seek a permit to do good for my society or for humanity on a larger scale. I would just go ahead and do it – and I have – and encourage every person to do the same. For if we hesitate, the situation might very well turn to the worse very quickly.

So why does a workshop on Truth and Reconciliation face official sanction and red tape? I would have thought that something as important and much needed as this which is a good step toward national reconciliation would be welcomed with open arms, and all resources made available to it to ensure its success.

But the ministry whose mandate is purportedly to elevate the individual and society thinks otherwise.


O’ Oh

I think it’s time to duck or find another place to enjoy the forthcoming summer in as summer in Bahrain is promising to be a tad hotter than usual:

The prime minister receiving the news that he has been awarded a UN prize

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, addressed today the meeting of the Human Rights council in Geneva regarding inadequate housing in Bahrain, which he said is the result of corruption and acquiring most of the country lands by members of the ruling family.

In his speech before representatives of Governments and NGO’s from around the world, Alkhawaja criticized the “United Nations Human Settlements Programme” for giving the prime minister of Bahrain an award related to achievements in human settlements. He said that the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has addressed the UN Secretary General to review the criteria and nomination procedures for such award to make sure that it is not given to officials who are well known for corruption and human rights abuses.


Demands for change are gathering apace

The weather was hot, the temperature was certainly over 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity wasn’t forgiving and neither was the sun, but the intelligentsia or Bahrain gathered yesterday in front of the Parliament building to demonstrate in commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day, in solidarity with Isa Al-Shayji who is demanding that MP Mohammed Khaled’s parliamentary immunity be lifted in order for him to stand trial accused of publicly insulting him and of course to show the community’s refusal of that heinous Press and Publications Law of 2002 in which journalists could be (and have) summarily imprisoned for simply practicing the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and demanded that that law be withdrawn, amended or replaced.

World Press Freedom Day demonstration in Bahrain

The number of people present were a cross section of society but all of whom share a basic understanding that they support the basic human right of the freedom to express oneself without fear of persecution.

In spite of the heat and humidity, the general atmosphere was happily cautious; yet generally hopeless that we could look to an the impotent parliament to our backs of doing anything germane to help in raising the bar and allowing this great society to elevate itself to a status equal to those it admires for freedoms others take for granted.

Even though the general average age of those gathered was certainly in the twenties, all were aware of these facts and everyone’s hope was tempered; optimism does not come cheap in these circles, all have suffered directly, or know someone who has, a judge’s gavel which shattered the even tenuous illusion of freedom gained.

Greetings done, hands shaken, smiles exchanged and the general somewhat expectant gaiety was not even shattered by the arrival of a jovial officer soon after the first few members gathered at the announced time. Half an hour or so later our numbers were bolstered with a few more individuals each of which carries the weight of whole cross-sections of society: Qassim Haddad, Ebrahim Sharif, Hassan Madan and a plethora of human rights activists lending their much needed support.

90 minutes or so after the initial gathering final communiqués were read, placards were stowed and streams of these guardians of the freedoms of expression started to drift away, hopefully to continue to exert and sustain pressure on parliament and government to force infusion blood into flaccid brains to get them to realise that if left alone, the press can and will be the ideal and unwavering partner for progress they sorely need.