By Asma Darwish, Head of Advocacy at Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), AAWE member and Head of Communication at FAWCO Refugee Network
*This has been written for and published by AAWE Paris, a series of 4 articles printed in its newsletter every trimester.
In my previous article I have put the context to the uprising in Bahrain, my home country and how it changed the course of my life and how it led me to doing what I am doing since 2011 until now.
The Pearl Roundabout and myself
On March 2011, the day when the crackdown at the pearl roundabout was happening, I was there. I slept over in the protest camp (hardly slept I would say; as news of a brutal crackdown was continuously arriving at the campsite). It was so windy that night, internet and phone lines were cut deliberately.
At 5 AM the crackdown started; the army was put out on the ground with their military tanks, riot police started shooting tear gas canisters and stun grenades directly at protesters. We steadfast until it became impossible to breathe, my nose and throat were burning like fire, the air got toxic with tear gas. We were suffocating and since we were completely armless and harmless; we had to retreat. The troops numbered in thousands and were quite advancing well. We fled to the surrounding villages; helicopters and army jets were hovering so close. Terrifying. People were killed in that day. Every object that was seen moving in the street was directly shot at. I could be shot at. We took refuge in nearby houses.
After this day, martial law was declared in the entire country and the horror of late house raids started. Everyone who have step a foot in the pearl roundabout (the campsite) was tracked down by government trolls on social media and national television. Including me!
I was at home, when at dawn I heard violent knocks on my door. I woke up panicking to find tens of armed riot police and masked forces in civilian clothing all over my house. They made a mess and started interrogating me. Some of my family members found themselves arrested and some of whom even “disappeared”.
In the beginning I felt so helpless, then I thought why not going on an open hunger strike to draw attention to the unjust plight of many in Bahrain. Meanwhile I raised my profile by also bringing a letter addressed to the Secretary General to the United Nations offices in Bahrain. Two of my compatriots and I were arrested for this. I had used Twitter to communicate my plight, catching the eye of Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, who advocated for my release.
Bahrain at the time was under spotlights. My story (not quite a special one was only one story of tens of thousands) got attention. I knew deep inside I could do more than that when I felt backed and supported by many around the world who showed solidarity and genuine compassion to my struggle.
I felt backed by the mass and thus I decided to join a workforce communicating the situation to the international community. I have succeeded.
My advocacy for human rights
Since 2011, I have been a Human Rights Defender and have been working with different local human rights organizations, most recently as an advocacy officer with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), which is a non-profit, non-governmental organization who gained wide local and worldwide support and received several international awards for being outspoken in its struggle to promote human rights and social justice in Bahrain.
I am now a refugee in France, where I carry my advocacy work to promote change. With my colleagues, we carried out and participated at numerous projects including advocacy, digital security trainings, workshops, seminars, research, media campaigns and reporting to UN mechanisms and international NGOs. We have also participated in many regional and international conferences and workshops in addition to testifying in the UN, national parliaments across Europe, the European Parliament and the United States Congress. Some examples of the work done in collaboration with other advocates include having an impact that minimized the awful torture situation that was common in Bahraini prisons, helping in the release of some prisoners of conscience from imprisonment, and also in providing adequate medical care for prisoners.
I try to focus my effort into realizing basic human rights in my country: rights like freedom of expression, which is almost totally restricted in Bahrain. My mission is to encourage and support individuals and groups to be proactive in the protection of their own and others’ rights; to struggle to promote democracy and human rights in accordance with international norms; to document and report on human rights violations in Bahrain; and to carry on advocacy to influence international policies according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
All sound very interesting, I know, but without you and your support none of that would have been possible. If you ask me now how can you help, I do actually envisage many ways to help.
Let us remind ourselves that a key principle of the human rights movement is its appeal to universality: the idea that all human beings should struggle in solidarity for a common set of basic conditions. So, one way of helping us in Bahrain is by imposing pressure on your local government, for being in a close alliance does not allow any country to ignore human rights. Carry out campaigns. Name and shame human rights violators no matter where they are. Speak up for those who are kept from speaking up, for your voice does count and is priceless.
To be continued….