Tag Archives activism

‘Don’t wait for change, be the change’

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Good advice. And one that should be kept in mind at all times especially in our lethargic Arab societies.

The advice comes from a young lady who demonstrated an iron will to fight injustice and offer venues for inter-faith and inter-cultural rapprochement through cyber activism which, if not emulated, then at least supported, because ultimately her efforts leads to hope of a better future.

Thanks for your efforts Esra’a, and you have my full support.


Demonstration at Parliament on Thursday, be there!

«الصحفيين» تدعو للاعتصام أمــــام «النيــابي» الخميــس المقبــل

ناشدت جمعية الصحفيين البحرينية جموع الصحافيين والمثقفين والفنانين البحرينيين ”الاعتصام أمام مجلس النواب الخميس المقبل، احتجاجا على مجمل ما أنتجه المجلس في دورته الحالية من قرارات ولجان تحقيق بحق الثقافة والإبداع وحرية الكلمة”.

وفي سياق متصل، استغربت الجمعية في بيان أصدرته أمس (الأحد) رفض لجنة الشؤون التشريعية بالمجلس رفع الحصانة عن عضو كتلة المنبر الإسلامي النائب محمد خالد في القضية التي رفعها ضده رئيس الجمعية عيسى الشايجي.

وعبرت الجمعية في بيانها عن ”كامل تضامنها مع الزميل الشايجي فيما تعرض له من إهانة وقذف مباشر من قبل النائب خالد”ØŒ معربة عن قلقها من ”اتجاه الكتل النيابية الأعضاء في اللجنة للمساس بحرية الصحافة وقمعها معتمدين على الحصانة النيابية ”ØŒ وفق البيان. واعتبرت الجمعية، هذا الموقف من قبل النواب ”مخزٍ، ويطرح الكثير من الأسئلة عن مصداقية المجلس من جهة وعن تلك الوعود التي أطلقوها في الدفاع عن الصحافيين وإصدار قانون صحافة متطور من جهة أخرى”.

The Bahrain Journalists Association has called for a demonstration in front of the Parliament building this Thursday at 5pm 4.30pm to show to denounce the dearth of parliamentary output in its first session.

The BJA also expresses its deep concern for parliament’s refusal to remove MP Mohammed Khaled’s parliamentary immunity so that he can be tried in a case levied against him by the president of the BJA Isa Al-Shaiji for defamation and slander.

I plan to be there, it is important to demonstrate to the “people’s representatives” that they are anything but. Especially with the ridiculous efforts exerted by them collectively to restrict personal and all other freedoms.


Speaking at the Rand Doha Conference

I’ll be speaking at the forthcoming Rand Doha Conference:

RAND logoRAND is proud to announce it will be holding a conference in Doha, Qatar from 15-16 March on the subject Creative Use of the Media to Foster Understanding and Tolerance. The conference will bring together regional analysts, public diplomacy and information operations experts, and the initiators of popular, cutting edge media programs in the region.

We would like you to formally invite you be a featured speaker on the first day of our conference where we hope to highlight innovative media programs in the Middle East that we hope will offer a range of perspectives. We were hoping that you would speak about your experiences as a blogger, specifically your recent issues with authorities.

This should be a very interesting conference with an excellent list of invited speakers from around the world. I’ll blog the conference and put up my slides and notes when I return.


Al-Sahlawi & Al-Habshi are OUT!

Thanks to the big campaign and continuous pressure applied by society, Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi and Hussain Al-Habshi have been released from prison at around 11am this morning. I have also confirmed this fact independently.

I wish to officially congratulate them for their stance and sacrifice, and hope that with this, the Bahraini government too have re-evaluated its own stance regarding freedoms of expressions. I would also like to thank everyone who maintained the political pressure to secure their release.

Congratulations Mohammed and Hussain and it’s good to have you back!


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

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That is the title of the seminar to be conducted in Washington on February 13th concerning the Bahraini political scene. Not a very imaginative title, as it is a very much overused sentence in Bahrain – with justification, I might add. All you have to do is pick up any paper, on any day and read any political topic. Continue reading about that topic for a while and you will see – there in black and white – why Bahrain should most probably trade mark that “brand”.

Nowhere is that brand more in evidence than in the political, freedoms and human rights scenes.

Back to the seminar; it’s organisers the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research describe that event as follows:

In February 2001, Bahrain introduced a series of reforms to open its political system. The following year, the government promulgated a new constitution, established a bicameral legislature, and issued calls for Sunni-Shiite equality. Western governments hailed the country as a beacon for democracy in the Middle East. But six years and two parliamentary elections later, Bahrain’s liberal experiment has failed to meet expectations. Tensions are high. Will sectarian strife spur greater reform or will it cause retrenchment? What does Bahraini political reform mean for the United States?

That’s really good. We need to discuss these issues and continue to talk about them with the declared objective that we should find a way out of the bottleneck. No one can declare for an instant that Bahrain is perfect; no country is, and as we are but an infant as far as democracy is concerned, it is vitally important that we continue to learn from our experiences, and listen especially to people opposing the limited reforms we enjoy so that we can gain from their own ideas.

One might ask, who’s involved in this panel? Again, according to the organisers:

These and other questions will be the subject of an AEI panel discussion with Salah al-Bandar, secretary general of the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development in London; Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, executive director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and Toby Jones, a visiting assistant professor of history at Swarthmore College. Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, will moderate.

Ah, that might be a problem for the Bahraini government. To say that they detest the whole panel and view them as enemies of the State is an understatement. The government has also not shown any willingness to put the Bandargate fires out, in fact, it has done the exact opposite if the leaked strategic report dubbed “Bandargate version 2” is anything to go by, and much more importantly the deafening silence it is maintaining and the continued employment of all those named and shamed in the original report.

So it is not going to take to this seminar too kindly. And you would think that they would immediately raise objections with the organisers and demand that the panel should have government representatives to portray the government’s points of view.

That, it appears, is far too much hassle. There is a much easier way to put paid to that seminar:

The president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was arrested by Bahraini authorities this morning at 6am. The reason for the detention is not yet known.

Mr. Alkhawaja was previously arrested in September 2004 after he gave a public lecture in which he criticized the Prime Minister of Bahrain. (See Human Rights Watch: Rights Center Closed as Crackdown Expands and Closure of BCHR).

Mr. Alkhawaja was due to travel to the United States later this month to deliver a lecture about political reform in Bahrain, at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC.

It is also being reported that Hassan Mushaima, the general secretary of the Haq Movement political society, has also been arrested.

The arrest comes just a day after two political activists in the country (Dr. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi and Mr Hussain AbdulAziz Al Hebshi) were sentenced to prison for possessing leaflets. The leaflets, downloaded from an internet website, called on Bahrainis to boycott the November 2006 national elections. (See information regarding the Leaflet Detainees).

Further details will be posted on this post as they become available.
BCHR :: 2nd February, 2007

That’s quite neat isn’t it? Very daring and creative one might say too!

These are my simple predictions:

    1. They’ll not going to be released before Feb 13th.
    2. We’ll have many more demonstrations around the island demanding the release of the “leaflet detainees”, the 2 persons arrested in the last couple of days demanding the release of the leaflet detainees, and now we will have the demonstrators also calling for the release of the Washington Seminar Detainees.
    3. Tempers will continue to boil and flair.
    4. More business opportunities will be lost due to all of these shenanigans.
    5. Moderates will continue to be pushed into corners and forced to take sides.
    6. And the country will continue its downward spiral.

This is yet another fiasco. What the government has achieved with this unwise move is proven the basic premise of the seminar. Bahrain does indeed takes one step forward, and several steps back!

Do they really think that the apprehension of a panelist will magically cancel the seminar? No, what they have also done is given the seminar both legitimacy and popularity! Just think of the headlines it will create now.

Is this really conducive to our situation?

Is there no one in power that will step forward with political courage and will and put a stop to all of this?

WE are getting rather tired of all these situations.

All we want is to live with dignity for goodness’ sake. Is that too much to ask?

Release them. All of them. For the sake of the future of Bahrain.


Enemies of the State

Bahrainis Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Al-Habshi start serving their time in prison today for voicing their political opinions. The first for a year, the second for 6 months. Isolated from their jobs, their families and their community simply for voicing a political opinion which the government interpreted as tantamount to carrying arms and forcibly mounting a coup to change the ruling regime.

For just printing and wanting to distribute a document written by a dissident – a national figure nonetheless – calling for the boycott of the recently held national elections.

Even after more than 160 people signed a petition and 49 prominent human rights organisations from all over the world have demanded their release as they believe this was a political case or opinion suppression which countermands Bahrain’s signed and accepted UN Human Rights agreements, it being on the UN Human Rights Council and heading the United Nations. Other than countermanding our own charter and constitution, that is.

For those who say that this is not a politicised case and that the judiciary is in fact independent, let me remind you of a few things that might call that opinion into question: known and documented torturers still walk freely amongst us with impunity, someone who had a gun and live ammunition with probable intent to use them gets 8 days remand in custody and released, high-level embezzlers get rapped on their knuckles – by the same court – and let go, wife abusers get fined BD20 and let go, child rapists get lenient sentences, thieves probably get less time for burglaries and many more examples you read in the papers almost every day.

Yet, call for a boycott – which is a valid and legitimate political opinion – even on a second-hand basis as in this particular case, and you get to be the guest of His Majesty for up to 7 years. I suppose we should be thankful that Mohammed Saeed only got 1 year in prison while his companion Hussain Abdulaziz gets only 6 months.

I wonder how many years I would get to be a guest of His Majesty if they rifled through my posts on this site… That’s a prospect I do not relish finding out.

Maybe it’s time to shut up, keep our heads down, and mind our own business.


Bahrain jails political activists

A court in Bahrain on Wednesday sent two political activists to jail for possessing leaflets calling for a boycott of recent legislative elections, their lawyer said.

Mohammed Saeed Al Sahlawi, a dentist, received a one-year jail sentence while insurance executive Hussein al Hibshi was sentenced to six months in prison, lawyer Mohammed Ahmad told AFP.

“This ruling is unfair and illogical. It bypassed the defence argument… that the defendants were only exercising their right to free expression and that the material seized in their possession stressed the need to abide by peaceful means in expressing views,” Ahmad said.

“We have no choice but to appeal the ruling,” the lawyer added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had on Tuesday urged Bahrain to drop the charges against the two political activists, who went on trial on January 7 on charges of possessing unlicensed leaflets ”containing inflammatory material and false information.”

The pair were arrested last November 16 after being found with leaflets that called for a boycott of the November 25 legislative polls.

They were charged under articles of Bahrain’s penal code which ”criminalise the dissemination and possession of materials that could “damage the public interest’,” HRW said.

The Shiite-led opposition won control of more than 40 percent of seats in parliament, which however has to share its legislative powers with an upper chamber appointed by the king.

The arrangement prompted a boycott of 2002 polls, the first since the parliament was scrapped in 1975. Some of Bahrain’s opposition kept up the boycott because demands for constitutional changes were not met.
Khaleej Times :: 31 Jan, ’07

Disgusting. Another blow for freedom of speech in Bahrain.


Please sign the petition to release the Bahraini prisoners of conscience

Dr Mohammed Saeed, Bahraini detainee of conscience

A letter is being sent to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa petitioning his majesty to stand with the freedoms of expression guarantees by his constitution and to release the two prisoners of conscience: Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Abdulaziz.

Both gentlemen are being accused of a plethora of traitorous offenses which could land them in prison for a long time and ruin their chances of ever becoming productive and patriotic elements of the Bahraini society, simply for voicing their opinions as guaranteed by human rights declarations and our constitution.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”


Regardless of how we stand ourselves on political issues, we must recognise, accept and support the right of others to voice their points of view even if we do not agree with them. Throwing people in prison for voicing their opinions only aggravates and already very tenuous situation, rather than ameliorate passions and support voices of reason to find ways out of bottlenecks.

Please do read the petition and sign your name if you wish. Everyone’s support is valuable. I hope the right thing is done in this situation by releasing the detainees. We need good news in this country for a change.

Release Mohammed and Hussain please!


Curtis Sliwa’s in Bahrain

For just a few days, invited by the Bahrain Chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organisation, a group of just 22 people, to address a few schools and business groups in Bahrain to talk to them about his various community projects, the most visible of which is the Guardian Angels of course.

Curtis Sliwa - The Guardian Angels - Interview in Bahrain

I was invited by Sofyan Al-Moayed – who is one of those 22 and the one who arranged for Curtis’ visit – to briefly meet Curtis which I did and thoroughly enjoyed doing so, but also took the opportunity to interview him and try to find common ground with his initiatives, and my Just Bahraini campaign.

I’m not going to spoil it any more for you, you can listen to the interview yourself; it’s about 30 minutes long and this constitutes my first ever podcast which I hope you will enjoy.

[audio:MtvPodcast1-GuardianAngels.mp3] Download [MP3 27.6MB] and/or [Enhanced MP3 14.4MB] (don’t ask!)) or just click above to listen online.


‘Women without Shadows’ tonight at BCC

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Haifaa Al-Mansour's Women without Shadows documentaryHaifaa Al-Mansour will be showing her much acclaimed film Women without Shadows tonight at 6PM at the Bahrain Cinema Club.

The film and its director both received various local and international accolades, some of which are:

    1. The Golden Dagger in Muscat Film Festival for best documentary- 2006
    2. The Critics Golden Dagger for best film- Muscat film festival- 2006
    3. The Best Documentary in the Gulf region: Emirtes Film Festival 2006
    4. Special Mention: Beirut International Film Festivals for Docs- Docdays-2006
    5. Special Mention: Rotterdam Festiaval for Arab Films- 2006

The Saudi Arab News said about Women without Shadows:

Many who disagree with the Al-Mansour believe that the film doesn’t reflect reality; others are angered by Al-Mansour’s lack of knowledge about Islam. Norah, an Islamic culture teacher, asked, “What gives her the right to pass judgment on such matters? She isn’t an Islamic scholar; she’s a film director!”

Suleiman, a Saudi man, agrees with Norah. “I would advise the director to leave such sensitive issues to qualified individuals in order to prevent our children becoming infected with doubt about our religion.” He accused Al-Mansour of projecting her own perceptions of Islam on the public at large and is concerned about how damaging this might be.

Al-Mansour answered some of her critics by saying, “I didn’t try to force my personal opinion on the public or influence the public in any way. I simply wanted to convey the experiences and opinions of many women here in the Kingdom.”

Al-Qarni Retracts Statement on Hijab
Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni has retracted an earlier statement in which he said the hijab was the covering of hair, not face. He once again fell in line with the rest of the scholars in the Kingdom with regard to the need for women to cover their face in public.

The International Herald Tribune also wrote about Haifaa and her movie; here’s a snippet of that article:

The movie, which looks something like an Egyptian musical, but with a Saudian context, was shot in Dubai and stars the flashily handsome Saudi Hicham Abderrahman, winner of the local “Star Academy” TV show. It touches on conflicts between Western liberal and Saudi conservative values. “It’s like a big studio film,” said Mansour, “and a hit throughout the Arab world.”

Her own first film is a more modest proposal. “These days, you can make a documentary that has impact,” she said. “Documentaries have become big.” She started out interviewing women street vendors: “They are free and aggressive because they have some economic independence, so they can express more.

“So many women are afraid to express anything,” she added. “It’s not just a question of religion, but of men taking advantage of the system: within the old tribal system, women didn’t have a chance. But today, things are opening up. I’m lucky: I got help from his royal highness, who is supportive of women,” she said, referring to Prince Talal.

Mansour interviewed women who speak their mind, and women who hide, invisible beneath their garb, fingers tugging nervously at their dark gowns. “I have nothing against marrying a married man,” says one young girl. “I don’t mind being a second wife.”

Mansour said, “Many don’t even realize they are unhappy. They are afraid of showing their feelings, of showing anything. With this movie, we wanted to change the reality for Saudi women because this is a critical and important moment. The times are changing and now there is an opportunity for all women to be more active. If they lose this chance, it would be sad.”

As for the sheik who said there was no Islamic rule ordaining women to veil their faces, he had to recant. “His interview made the Muslims nervous and angry, so they pressured him. It wasn’t so bad for me because of course they hate me but I’m not one of them; he is one of them. He even had to say that I had manipulated him. I didn’t. But he’s a good man and I still like him.”

After reading this, are you sure you would want to miss this documentary? This is an excellent change to try to understand some of the dynamics of Saudi, especially that it exposes such a thorny subject. It is a glimpse into some of the most secret depths of Saudi society and psyche.

I’ll be there at 6. I hope many of you will join me too.

If you are a blogger, please mention this in your blog too so that we spread the word. This is very short notice I know, but together we can ensure that many people attend this rather important showing.