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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bahrain: The Forgotten Revolution. An Interview With Asma Darwish Part I.

On March 6, 2011 I ran an interview with Bahraini freedom activist Zanaib Al-Khawaja (An Interview With a Bahraini Revolutionary - March 6, 2011), a 27 year-old mother of a two year-old. In the past year she has gone on a hunger strike, been imprisoned and released and her father has been sentenced to life in prison for speaking out against the government. Meanwhile, the revolution in Bahrain has fallen out of the public consciousness. Bahrain and the United States are deeply connected because of Bahrain's proximity to Saudi Arabia, our ally through oil and money, and more importantly because the United States Navy's 5th Fleet is based there. Unlike Libya, we have a vested interest in, and a responsibility to, the people of Bahrain.

On June 15, 2011 I wrote a piece about three young Bahraini women, Al-Khawaja, Sawsan Jawad, and Asma Darwish who went to the United Nations Development Council offices in Manama in an attempt to deliver a letter about imprisoned family members to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The piece is an accounting of their subsequent detention on that day. (Update On A Bahraini Revolutionary: How Did You Spend Your Day? June 15, 2011).

Asma Darwish holding a picture
of her brother. June , 2011
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak to Asma Darwish via Skype from Switzerland where she is currently seeking asylum. Darwish, 21, and her husband were forced to flee Bahrain after receiving multiple death and rape threats via Facebook and Twitter, as well as threats of arrest from Bahraini authorities.

Why are you in Switzerland?
Darwish: Actually, January 20th, I left Bahrain for safety and security reasons because I have been exposed to threats of via codes and messages on social networks containing rape and arrest and murder, so I had to leave the country. Fear of arrest was the basic concern of mine and my husband's. I am here with my husband. He is a human rights activist as well. His father, is 65 years-old and he has been sentenced for fifteen years imprisonment.

Can I have an update on your brother?
Darwish:  My brother was arrested in May, 2011. Riot police and masked men stormed into my house at 1:30 in the morning. (Ed Note: This section of the interview did not record properly because of a technical problem, but Darwish describes the police storming and ransacking her home in search of her brother) They couldn't find my brother at home because he was hiding in my sister's house. Then they took my elder brother as a hostage. They then went to my sister's house and arrest my brother there. He spent two months in prison, until late July when he was released. He was tortured, and his head was bashed into the wall when he was asked if he liked the King or not and he refused to answer this question. He was admitted in the prison hospital for one week.
He is good right now. After he was released we got [a notification] of his trial date but then the lawyer told us that the case has been reserved [postponed]. So now he is in Bahrain and he is participating in the process going on and he is participating in the political unrest happening [there].

Is he concerned for his freedom and his safety, or is it possible that he has gotten enough publicity that he might not be arrested again?
Darwish: You know, publicity is never a sure thing when it comes to facing the Bahraini regime. We are trying to do our best to get the publicity in order to get a little bit [of] safety for ourselves. But on the other hand, the publicity is not a good thing because it brings attention to you, especially the government's attention.
Which brings us to why you are in Switzerland because it is likely the threats you received were from government sympathizers, if not the government itself.
Darwish: Exactly. I got threats from people who work at the Ministry of the Interior as well as people on Twitter using photos [of themselves] being dressed as riot police. They were threatening me [with] rape and arrest, saying we will come for you and arrest you and we will torture you to death so you never dare to talk against the government again.
My interview with Asma Darwish will continue tomorrow.

For more information on Bahrain, please watch the video below. The documentary, published by Al Jazeera is long, but the world doesn't easily lend itself to two minute YouTube videos. If you don't have the time to watch the entire documentary, watch the last fourteen minutes (from 36:00) on to understand what the Bahraini government (with silent complicity from the United States) is doing to people the government itself disagrees with. The propaganda spouted by the Bahraini government via its dedicated news outlets should having a chilling effect on even the staunchest statists amongst you.

Because of our Navy's involvement with the government of Bahrain, I call on President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and Secretary of State Clinton to demand an end to the sectarian violence that is being ignored in Bahrain.

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