Middle East

Q&A: Bahraini activist Maryam Al Khawaja


The daughter of jailed Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 85 days, tells SBS the West should not ignore the unrest in Bahrain.

Prominent Bahraini opposition activist, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, has been on hunger strike for 85 days now. Yesterday, his trial was moved from the military court to a civil court for a retrial. The military court sentenced him last year to life in prison for conspiring against the state.

His daughter, Maryam AlKhawaja, has been actively campaigning for the release of her father, other family members and other activists imprisoned. She spoke to SBS from Lebanon where she is participating in a workshop organised by the Gulf Center of Human of Human Rights.

Q: What is the latest with your father?

No information so far except that he has been force fed with liquids. I was surprised to see BBC's Frank Gardner granted an interview with him and he told our family this.

Q: Do you see the retrial as a positive step?

I don't think so. This is the same government that has been oppressing for many years. The Bahraini government is hard to predict because there are no international consequences, therefore there are no incentives to change its behaviour.

Q: What do you mean by consequences here?

Look, there have been no special sessions in the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the violence. There are no economic sanctions. In fact, the government is being awarded by arms sales from the west. Any hope I have lies with the Scandinavian countries.

Q: Why do you specify these countries?

Because they don't have many ties to the Gulf as much as the United States and Britain and they have a more widely accepted culture of upholding human rights principles.

Q: How do you see the next phase of the revolution playing out?

Change is going to come no matter what in two ways.

Either it will be a very long and bloody process where many lives will be lost or a shorter one with increasing international pressure to release prisoners including my father and other members of my family

Q: You have been very active campaigning via Twitter and other social media for the release of your father, how do you maintain hope?

This can happen to anyone. I mean we are Danish Bahraini dual citizens, we speak English well, we are well-off and so on, but look at my family's situation now for daring to speak up.

I have one sister with four cases against her, my mother was fired from her job and my dad still in prison. We need to stand together.

It's really difficult you know, our family has been targeted even my sisters' husband (was) in prison. They go after the entire family.

I have to make sure as an activist that I give voice to the other 697 political prisoners and not just the cases that personally affect me.