This video, recorded in Italy, says about itself:
When I saw courage: Maryam Al Khawaja at TEDxLecce
2 February 2014
By Maryam Al Khawaja from Bahrain, in the Providence Journal in Rhode Island state in the USA:
Maryam Al Khawaja: Fighting my country’s rights abuses
Aug. 24, 2015 at 2:01 AM
Last September, I was sitting in a Bahraini jail. I had been arrested for my advocacy of human rights, which, over the past seven years, has led me to the halls of Congress, the United Nations and around the world in an effort to publicize the abuses committed by the Bahraini government and other repressive regimes in the region.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is one of the few U.S. leaders who wrote to the Bahraini government urging it to drop all the charges against me and to let me leave the country.
The government of Bahrain treats human rights defenders as criminals. In an attempt to silence the peaceful movement for democratic reform, the authorities harshly punish those of us who work to advance liberty, democracy and free expression with lengthy prison sentences and no due process. I was eventually released, but sentenced in absentia to a year in prison. I have been effectively exiled from my home. If I ever go back to Bahrain I could be sent straight to jail the moment I step foot off of the plane.
When Senator Whitehouse stood in my defense, it was an important statement of support and encouragement. I’d taught at Brown University in 2010 and still have close connections with the school. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., has also condemned government violence in Bahrain and has been outspoken about the need to protect peaceful protesters.
But there are many others in the U.S. government who simply don’t understand the situation in Bahrain. They focus mainly on Bahrain as a military ally, host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, an ally against Iranian aggression, and falsely conclude that it is better for U.S. interests to avoid criticizing the regime for its awful human rights record. In June, the State Department decided to lift the ban on arms sales to Bahrain’s military that it had imposed in 2011, citing “meaningful progress on human rights reforms” that remain unseen. Reforms promised by the Bahraini government have yet to materialize, the jails are full of political prisoners and reports of torture in custody are rampant.
Bahrain, the smallest country in Middle East, had the largest pro-democracy demonstrations of all the Arab countries in early 2011. However, while Egypt removed its dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia managed to achieve a fledgling democracy, the Bahraini regime violently suppressed peaceful calls for change and continues to do so.
Human Rights First and other U.S.-based organizations have been documenting abuses by the Bahraini regime for several years. In a country ruled by a family where the king’s uncle has served as the un-elected prime minister for 43 years, the State Department is clearly wrong to claim there has been meaningful progress, and Congress is right to challenge the lifting of the ban.
Last week Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation to ban the sale of tear gas, small weapons, ammunition, Humvees and other things that might be used against protesters until all the recommendations on reform made to the Bahraini government by international lawyers at the end of 2011 are fully implemented.
This is a smart move and an important opportunity for Senators Whitehouse and Reed to engage on a larger scale on human rights issues in Bahrain. By signing onto the bill, S.2009, they can help to persuade the government of Bahrain to reform, while showing that the United States won’t reward human rights abuses with weapons. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has said he will introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives, which also gives Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, both Rhode Island Democrats, the chance to support this ban.
I know from my time in jail, and from years of documenting unfair trials, arbitrary arrests and torture in Bahrain, that the regime needs more than gentle encouragement to reform. There must be consequences for its criminal behavior, and Rhode Island’s members of Congress now have the chance to do something about it. I hope they will do the right thing and continue to stand up for Bahrainis’ achieving their rights.
Maryam Al Khawaja, a former Brown University teaching assistant, is co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and a Bahraini human rights defender.