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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Following Asma Darwish On Her Return To Bahrain

Over the course of the past year I have followed and written about Asma Darwish, a twenty-one year old woman from Bahrain, who was been caught up in the eye of the political storm there.

In March (RBL&OS March 11, 2012RBL&OS March 12, 2012; RBL&OS March 13, 2012) I spoke to Asma about her self-imposed exile in Switzerland and the ordeals of her family during the Bahraini revolution. I became aware of Asma's story after an interview I did with another Bahraini revolutionary, Zanaib Al-Khawaja (RBL&OS March 6, 2011). A few months after that interview ran on this site, I was riveted by Zanaib and Asma's real-time Twitter accounting of their attempt to deliver a letter about their imprisoned family members to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon via the local UN Development Program (UNDP) office in Manama, Bahrain (RLB&OS June 15, 2011) and subsequent detainment.

Asma Darwish
While events in Syria and Egypt have rightfully been capturing our attention recently, the revolutions in other Middle Eastern countries continue to this day. While the situations in Syria and Egypt could potentially take us to historically dangerous places as they unfold, Bahrain should also hold particular interest to Americans: We base our 5th Fleet there and because of the support of the Bahraini regime by our fair-weather allies, the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia.

During the current political season, we may be fighting silly verbal wars about 'women's health issues' and the role of government in our everyday lives, but I think it's important to read about someone who lives with government in her everyday life, and who only wants dignity and freedom for herself and her family. As Americans, we have a duty to protect the freedoms we have always stood for so we can continue to foster freedom across the globe for people who are oppressed, even though our foreign and energy policies currently prevent us from standing with the people of Bahrain and millions of other people in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the things some of us here fight and complain about on a daily basis amount to nothing more than silliness and whining when compared to the real struggles of real people who fight daily against government-supported oppression and violence.

This latest interview will run in two parts today and tomorrow.


What prompted you to go back to Bahrain?

Asma: We stayed in Switzerland for nearly five months, and it was the first time for my husband and I to stay away from home for this long. So missing the country and missing these days that I love to call “golden historical days” we could not bear to stand away and not take part. As well as my husband’s longing to [see] his imprisoned father again. All that made us decide to come back to Bahrain. The slow process of the asylum procedure beside the high-living cost in Switzerland [were also factors in our decision].

In addition, my husband and I, [along] with other international Human Rights defenders standing up strongly for Bahrain have established an organization (European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights -- EBOHR) [based in] Bern, Switzerland, [to] shed light on the violations taking place in Bahrain. So we thought we must be the team working from inside Bahrain.


Was safety a concern when you first arrived back home and how safe do you feel now?


Asma: Of course it was a major concern, especially when we had to flee our country mainly due to that reason. Before returning, my husband and I had put all our worst expectations on paper -- arrest, or investigation was highly ranked [at the top of the list]. So taking the decision of coming back to was a big risk for us, yet, it was to be taken at any rate.

We are now doing all we can to help in anyway the ongoing situation in Bahrain that has not improved, yet, worsened.

Everyone who opposes the regime’s abuses and violations and [are demanding] more freedom and [civil] rights feel unsafe in Bahrain. I think I am amongst those indeed, as [myself and many others] are always targeted by the regime, not only through arrest and torture but also through threats on social media, harassment, etc…

How did it feel to go back home?


Asma: I was very much excited, and first thing I felt like doing when I arrived [at] Bahrain International Airport was to bow down and kiss the ground of my country, yet, my heart was beating so fast expecting the unexpected. Thank God, we were [able] to pass through [the airport] without any trouble. [We] went home, and [I] had the best sleep I had in my life, in my [home] country that I had to be away from for five months, which felt like five years of separation.

In the same time, I was glad I will able to participate in the protests, [to] document abuses, and live what I should be living side by side with my people.

How is your familyand your father-in-law?


Asma: My father-in-law, Parweez, [at] sixty-five years-old, [is] the eldest prisoner in Bahrain. [He] is facing trial alongside twelve other activists, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Mushaima, Al-Meqdad and the rest.

He had the chance to tell his story of arrest and torture to the court, with so much pain of what happened to him and the rest of the opposition leaders convicted in the case of the Alliance for the Republic.

He still suffers from his pelvis and legs due to the severe torture he was subjected to, and currently we are supporting some NGOs (non-governmental organizations) holding the son of the King, Naser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, accountable for torturing him and other prisoners of conscience.

My uncle, Shaikh Abduladhim Al-Mohtadi, was sentenced in a military court to five years  imprisonment [and] is also facing trial in a civilian court. He had a heart [attack] during the national safety period due to torture he was also subjected too during his detention.

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