General: To mark the 4th anniversary of Abdulhadi's Arrest: Al-Khawaja and Seif: Two Families Stand Firmly for Freedom and Social Justice / Part 1
This is the story of two families from different countries who share the same pursuit of human rights despite immense personal costs. The first comes from Bahrain, while the second hails from Egypt. Human rights defense has passed from one generation to another in these families of courageous men and women, some of whom are in jail on lengthy sentences for standing up for their beliefs.
First part in Bahrain:
After the popular uprising in Bahrain during February 2011, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja resigned from his work with Front Line Defenders, where I used to work with him. When I asked him why, he said: “I want to be with my people while they struggle in pursuit of freedom.”
That answer summarizes the life of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the prominent, internationally known and admired prominent human rights defender who faced imprisonment, torture, harassment, and intimidation as the price for demanding freedom for his people in Bahrain.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja participating in a peaceful demonstration in February 2011
Al-Khawaja faced immense violations to his civil and human rights as a peaceful citizen beginning from the monstrous way in which he was arrested on 9 April 2011. This was followed by brutal torture, resulting in a broken jaw and requiring several operations, then finally by an unfair trial in which the simplest of international standards for fair trials and due process were missing. Al-Khawaja was sentenced by the National Safety court – a Bahraini military court – on 22 June 2012 to life imprisonment. As the sentence was being pronounced, Al-Khawaja raised his fist and said: “We will continue on the path of peaceful resistance.”
The picture below was taken by one of the policemen in the courtroom who thought that by taking such a picture he would humiliate Al-Khawaja. Instead Al-Khawaja’s beloved ones hung this picture all over the walls of their houses; to them, this picture in actual fact embodies his strength and courage as well as his rejection of all methods of oppression and terror.
In prison, he was extremely mistreated, which is why he carried out a hunger strike along with his fellow inmates several times asking to be released and for better treatment towards them in prison. On 8 February 2012, he started a hunger strike on his own, calling for their collective freedom, which led to a dangerous deterioration of his health. On 28 May 2012, Al-Khawaja announced the suspension of his hunger strike on the 110th day, after having been force-fed. On 25 August 2014, he started a new hunger strike after having been in the same prison for three and a half years, protesting his arrest on charges related to freedom of expression. This time he stayed on hunger strike for 30 days.
In this next picture, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is in the last days of his first hunger strike:
On 2 March 2015, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a co-founder of the GCHR and former President of the BCHR, began a three-week water-only hunger strike in protest of his continued arbitrary detention, poor prison conditions, and restrictions on family contact, lack of investigation into torture of prisoners and other mistreatment of prisoners of conscious. (For an update, see https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/972)
One should admire that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is doing his best to support human rights movements in the Middle East and North Africa and he has many relationships with human rights defenders in Syria, Palestine, Western Sahara, Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other countries of the region. He has always strongly believed in the necessity of full solidarity and coordination between human rights defenders in order to achieve the ultimate goal, which encompasses building free and prosperous societies in which citizens can enjoy their freedoms fully whether civil or human rights.
It would not have been easy for Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the rest of his family to reach this rare level of struggle, resistance, sacrifice, selflessness and bravery without the outstanding contributions and the heroic role of Khadija Al-Mousawi, Al-Khawaja’s wife and partner in life. She is a unique woman who is characterized by her strong and brave personality as well as her adoption of sacrifice for freedom. Al-Mousawi always thinks of the victims of oppression in Bahrain and forgets what she and her family are going through, despite suffering severe violations denounced worldwide.