Rebecca Hickman is a research intern at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
I am a citizen of the United Kingdom, and until recently, with the exception of fleeting mentions in school geography classes, I had never heard of Bahrain. When discussing the Arab Spring during university classes professors spoke, for the most part, of Tunisia and Egypt, the fight of the Bahraini people was silenced, rushed over and mentioned as a brief afterthought — if at all.
Now, I talk about Bahrain on a daily basis, I read and write about the cases of people imprisoned for expressing anti-government opinions, tortured for fighting for human rights, and forcibly disappeared for daring to expose government brutality. I help to tell the story of the Bahraini people, to raise the voices of those imprisoned, their families, and the Bahraini people.
My government is a friend of Bahrain, representatives of my country frequently visit the Gulf state, most recently my Queen was pictured laughing with the Bahraini King at the Windsor Horse Show. A year ago I would not have had a second thought about this picture, I would have skipped over it in the newspaper, and scrolled past it on my social media. This time, I was disappointed, disappointed in my country for failing to address the human rights abuses in Bahrain. That is not my country, not the one that I belong to, nor the one my friends and family call home.
The pro-democracy movement has been met with brutal and violent repression by the Bahraini government. The people of Bahrain have continued to take to the street to protest against the government; campaigning for human rights and democracy. The government brutally repress dissent. Peaceful protesters have been killed, activists have been tortured, and opposition leaders have been arrested and detained. Yet the Bahraini people continue to fight, they continue to protest, they continue to support activists who are detained, and they continue to expose allegations of torture, and instances of impunity.
There are around four thousand people in prison for their involvement in the pro-democracy movement. On 15 January 2017 three of these individuals, alleged torture victims, were executed. Two more men are at risk of imminent execution.
The Bahraini government want to silence the voices of the Bahraini people, yet they continue to fight for freedom, they continue to press for reform in the face of severe government repression, and it is integral that the international community come together to support them in this fight. It is our responsibility to ensure that prisoners voices are heard, to ensure that the world is unable to ignore what is happening in Bahrain, and to remind the Al-Khalifa regime that their actions are not going unnoticed.
Prisoners ask their friends and family to tell the world about what is happening to them. #WeHearYou is a campaign to raise the voices of those being silenced by the regime. After being arrested prisoners are blindfolded. The blindfold often stays on for days, weeks or months. By depriving detainees of their sight the Bahraini security forces are ensuring individuals cannot recognise their torturers, or see the confessions placed in front of them to sign.
We are asking people to wear a blindfold to show solidarity with prisoners of conscience who continue to sacrifice their freedoms for ideals we sometimes take for granted. We need to continue using our voices to raise that of those imprisoned.
I am lucky, I have human rights. I can criticise my government, I can take to the streets and protest without fear of being shot by birdshot pellets, I am at no risk of being woken in the night by security forces breaking down my door, and I do not have to worry that my actions, my fight for human rights and democracy, will result in retaliation being levied against members of my family.
We need to continue working for democracy and human rights in Bahrain and let the Bahraini people know that #WeHearYou.
Rebecca Hickman tweets @beccifelicia.