Protesters call for the release of Bahrain human rights defender seven years after his arrest

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Ciaran Willis, Lauren Brown and Samantha Chambers

Zainab and Maryam al-Khawaja

Zainab and Maryam al-Khawaja

The daughters of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the co-founder of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, participated in a demonstration on Monday 9 April outside the Bahrain Embassy in London calling for his release on the seventh anniversary of his arrest.

Maryam and Zainab al-Khawaja joined NGOs and fellow supporters, as they chanted “free free Abdulhadi” and held placards with a picture of the Bahraini human rights activist.

It marked seven years since Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, founder of the 2012 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award-winning Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was imprisoned for his involvement in peaceful pro-democracy protests that swept the country during the Arab Spring. On 9 April 2011 twenty masked men broke into his house, dragged him down the stairs and arrested him in front of his family.

Bahrain has a poor track record on human rights, with many reports of torture and human rights defenders in jail. Al- Khawaja was part of the Bahrain 13, a group of journalists and activists who faced unfair trials following the unrest.

During his time in prison, Al-Khawaja has been tortured, sexually abused and admitted to hospital requiring surgery on a broken jaw.

His daughter Maryam al-Khawaja was imprisoned in Bahrain for a year before leaving the country in 2014. She faces prosecution on charges including insulting the king and defamation. She told Index: “For me, this isn’t just about my dad, it’s a reminder that we have thousands of prisoners in Bahrain, and we need to remember all of them, and we need to be fighting on behalf of all of them. These are all prisoners of conscience.”

A number of prominent Bahraini campaigners took part in the demonstration.

Jawad Fairooz, a former Bahrain MP and president of SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, said: “We’re here to support Abdulhadi as a symbol of the demand of the people of Bahrain who want to live in the country with dignity and freedom.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and an activist who fled the country following torture, said: “I’m proud to belong to a nation that Abdulhadi is a part of. Abdulhadi to me is one of the most inspirational individuals.”

Cat Lucas, programme manager at English Pen’s Writers at Risk initiative, said that the government could be doing a lot more to challenge what is going on in Bahrain. She hopes the Bahraini Embassy will finally act, not just in the case of al-Khawaja, “but in the case of lots of writers and activists who are imprisoned for their peaceful human rights activities”.

Protesters have gathered outside the Embassy once a month since January 2018 to highlight the dire human rights situation and ask the UK government to take action.

Al- Khawaja’s daughter Zainab called on the UK to hold the Bahraini regime accountable: “Major governments are still supporting the Bahraini regime with weapons and political training. They’re the people behind them. I can feel as angry here as I would protesting in Bahrain, because I know what the government here is responsible for. I know one of the reasons people are being killed and tortured in Bahrain, including my father, is the support from the British and American governments.”

A group of NGOs, including Index on Censorship and Pen International, signed a letter last week calling on Bahrain to cease its abuse of fundamental human rights.They asked the authorities to immediately and unconditionally free Abdulhadi, provide proper access to medical care and allow international NGOs and journalists access to Bahrain.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1523361455279-ef10ef07-647f-1″ taxonomies=”716″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Children of the internet: Free speech in the digital age

(Image: Shutterstock)

(Image: Shutterstock)

Unlike any previous time in the history of the world, there is a generation growing up today with unprecedented knowledge and power at their immediate and constant disposal. Their voices cannot be silenced, they can communicate with each other instantaneously from anywhere in the world. They are children of the internet, and they are politically and socially empowered in ways that are not yet clearly understood. Increasingly defining their identities online as much as offline, net-powered Millenials are collectively reshaping social norms — defining the legacy their generation will leave society. The internet is a product of, and a critical factor in, this legacy.

For example, the internet is a key medium for personal expression. Deliberately open-access and open-source architectures that transcend national boundaries means that the online world is a place where its users become increasingly accustomed to possessing both a platform and a voice regardless of their status in society. Even where it is dangerous to criticise politicians, or to practice a faith, or to be homosexual, the internet provides shelter in anonymity and the chance to meet like-minded people. In this way, the children of the internet have access to support, advice and assistance, but also to allies. Even the most isolated human can now take action with the power of a collaborative collective rather than as a lone individual, and they do so with an attitude that has become acclimatised to unfettered freedom of speech.

For the internet generation, this translates to their political actions online and often erupts into their offline behaviour, too. Online petitions gain infinitely more traction than their pen-and-paper twins, and the more anarchic side of the internet takes no prisoners in parodying public figures, as evinced recently with the numerous revisions of the recent “beer and bingo” tax cut advertisements produced by the ruling coalition. More controversially, Wikileaks infamously released hundreds of thousands of classified government communiqués, and “hacktivist” groups such as Anonymous make their presence felt with powerful retaliations against firms and governments that they perceive to have suppressed internet freedom. Even high-security sites such as the US Copyright Office and Paypal have been targeted — civil disobedience that is symptomatic of the new, sharing internet generation that is paradoxically mindful of personal privacy and disparaging of public opacity.

For the strongest demonstration of the way this attitude and power translates, look no further than the violent reaction of a primarily young body of protesters during the Arab Spring and in Ukraine. The internet was the conduit through which popular campaigns against ruling regimes transformed into widespread civil disobedience and a full-blown political movement. Empowered with access to forms of political commentary comparatively free of governmental intervention and the ability of every protester to act as a professional journalist by virtue of a camera phone and a Twitter account, the children of the internet communicated, mobilised and acted to cast away governments from Tunisia to Yemen; Egypt twice over. They made their voices heard: not at the ballot box as previous generations might have, but in the streets of Cairo and Sana’a and the virtual spaces of Facebook and Blackberry Messenger. Small wonder then, that governments targeted and blocked social networking sites to quell dissent. In many countries the internet was shut down altogether.

Yet, the internet persevered — as John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted: “The internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it”. Despite the long running tussle between the users of the internet and governments who seek to regulate it, it remains untameable. In each instance, almost immediately after internet usage has been restricted, information has circulated about circumventing government regulations — even total shutdowns have been dodged through external satellite connections.

Powered overwhelmingly by the young, the internet is changing the way our societies are structured. Its effects upon our civilisation are poorly understood, particularly among young people who have never known a world without the internet. Ultimately, however, it has done more for individual freedom than any other development in the last half-century. It grants any person a voice with mere access to a keyboard and a broadband connection. It holds governments to account in new and innovative ways, and most crucially, it is an irreversible development. An entire generation defines itself, subconsciously, through the internet; previous such advancements came only through the invention of the printing press, radio and television. One thing is for certain — as broadband usage approaches saturation in many developed countries, we are all children of the internet now.

This article was originally posted on 2 June, 2014 at

Egypt: Memories of Police Day

Egyptians gathered on the in Corniche near Qasr Nil Bridge in July 2013 to celebrate news of the announcement by the Egyptian Army Chief General el Sisi, that President Morsi had been removed from power in "response to the will of the people." (Photo: Sharron Ward / Demotix)

Supporters of General Sisi in December 2013 (Photo: Sharron Ward / Demotix)

National Police Day, 25 January 2011. Years of police brutality is being challenged by activists in Tahrir Square. Volleys of tear gas mark the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, even if nobody knows it yet.

“The police were in control of everything that day,” journalist Muhammad Mansour remembers. “But it was a sign. I remember feeling like that day was a test for the police…it was a difficult fight.”

But three years on and Egypt looks a very different place. On Friday at least 64 people were killed nationwide – most of them with live ammunition – and 1,076 people arrested, according to official figures. Informal counts put the number of deaths closer to 100.

While revolutionary protesters were shot dead in downtown Cairo, including an April 6 activist – Sayed Wezza – who campaigned for the Tamarod movement against former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, over 40 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were gunned down in the north-east of the capital. In both cases, authorities allegedly resorted to using near-immediate lethal force to disperse protests and, activists claim, silence dissent.

One revolutionary march from Mostafa Mahmoud square was dispersed quickly, another outside the Journalists’ Syndicate faced a similar reaction. In both cases, police reacted minutes after marches started moving. A statement from an April 6 Youth Movement organiser, texted minutes after the dispersal started, alleged the police had used live ammunition to disperse peaceful protests. “This is not the Egypt we are looking for,” it said.

“We didn’t even reach three blocks from the syndicate before we came under attack,” Revolutionary Socialist activist Tarek Shalaby says. After the tear gas started, he ran into a side-street as police vans hurtled round corners firing off tear gas and bullets. Shalaby then picked up a poster of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and got out. Not far from the clashes, Shalaby was then questioned by a Sisi supporter who was keen to know why his poster of the general was ripped.

National Police Day was once a stage-managed celebration of state authority. This year’s 25 January felt like that and more. Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square to the ubiquitous sounds of pro-army anthem ‘Teslam al-Ayadi.’ Crowds roared as military helicopters breezed over rooftops dropping Egyptian flags and vouchers for basic goods. For many, it was a stage-managed endorsement of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s expected bid for the presidency – but one a majority of Egyptians wholeheartedly support.

While police attacked revolutionary and Brotherhood protests, the Saturday celebrations also revealed a street-level willingness to act side by side with the police.

It’s a role encouraged by state and independent media, Shalaby claims, referring to calls by Egyptian news channels for members of the public to citizen’s arrest potential Brotherhood supporters, or people looking to disrupt the day. Given Egypt’s currently hyper-nationalist state narrative, that leaves activists, Brotherhood members as well as journalists and foreigners privy to abuses.

An Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) report recorded 36 violations against journalists and photojournalists on January 25. Vigilante justice, and impunity for those carrying it out, is a growing problem.

“I was interviewing the ‘Bride of Sisi’, as she called herself, when a crowd gathered around me and another journalist and accused us of working for a ‘terrorist’ news channel,” journalist Nadine Marroushi wrote in a London Review of Books blog. While interviewing inside the square, Marroushi and Daily News Egypt journalist Basil al-Dabh were accused of working for Al-Jazeera, insulted and physically assaulted. The police intervened and detained them for their own safety. “They took us away to a building just off the square and told us to hide there for an hour until the crowd calmed down.”

A video from a nearby street also showed a police officer telling a MBC Egypt camera camera to “move that camera…or I’ll tell the crowds you’re from Al-Jazeera.” The Qatari broadcaster has become deeply unpopular with many Egyptians, seen as one arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, itself identified as a terrorist organization in late December. Five Al-Jazeera journalists are currently in prison on charges of spreading false news and membership of a terrorist organization.

In a separate incident Matthew Stender, who went down to Tahrir to photograph the celebrations, was assaulted after running over to see where two Spanish journalists were being mobbed. Stender in turn was attacked. This time the army intervened and held him in a nearby room for an hour. While the Spanish journalists looked “quite roughed up,” Stender says, two other Egyptian journalists also accused of working for Al-Jazeera showed signs of “substantial injuries… [one] had a gash in the back of his head.”

In the run-up to January 25 this year, interim President Adly Mansour declared the “end of the police state in Egypt”. Meanwhile a damning report by Amnesty International last week condemned post-Morsi “state violence unseen even during the first 18 days of the ‘January 25 Revolution’,” expressing concerns that authorities are “utilizing all branches of the state apparatus to trample on human rights and quash dissent.” And the growing trend of violent protest dispersals, politicized detentions and home arrests suggest that Egypt is actually witnessing a return to old practices, only today they are dressed up in a fresh narrative indelibly stained red, white and black.

This article was published 0n 27 January at

Egypt: Arab Spring anniversary a “horrible day for journalists”

Thousands of Egyptians celebrated the 25th of January 2011 revolution anniversary at Al Etihadia Palace Square. Demonstrators chanted for the army and police and raised flags and banners bearing images of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Adham Khorshed / Demotix)

Thousands of Egyptians celebrated the 25th of January 2011 revolution anniversary at Al Etihadia Palace Square. Demonstrators chanted for the army and police and raised flags and banners bearing images of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Adham Khorshed / Demotix)

As thousands of Egyptians demonstrated in support of the country’s military, journalists were attacked, 49 people were killed and 247 others were injured in anti-government marches across Egypt on Saturday on the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The figures were announced by Egypt’s Health Ministry but Al Nadeem Center, a Cairo-based rights organization, gave an even higher death toll, adding that more than 1,000 people had been arrested in a day of violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

Still, a significant number of Egyptians refused to let the violence dampen their celebratory mood. Thousands of flag-bearing revellers flocked to Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Saturday to rally in support of the army. Raising pictures of Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah El Sisi , they called on him to run for the presidency, chanting “El Sisi is our president” and “the people, the army and the police are one hand”.

Three years after the mass protests demanding an end to Mubarak’s police state system, the revelry and nationalistic fervour demonstrated a reversal in public sentiment towards the military and the police, which were perceived in a negative light during the transitional period that followed the ouster of Mubarak. It also underlined the bitter polarisation in the country.

“The people want the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood!”, the Tahrir crowd chanted over and over.

Security was intensified after a series of bombings rocked Cairo the previous day — the largest of them a remote-controlled car bombing targeting the security directorate near the centre of the city. At least six people were killed in the bomb attacks and scores of others were injured. Ansar Beit al Maqdis — an al Qaeda-affiliated jihadi group — claimed responsibility for the bombings. The group threatened more violence and warned people to stay off the streets. Many Egyptians dismiss the persistent denials by the Muslim Brotherhood — recently designated by Egypt’s military-backed authorities as a terrorist organization — that the Brotherhood was behind the violence. The Brotherhood insists its struggle is peaceful and has issued a statement on its official website condemning the terrorist attacks. Tens of thousands of riot police and armoured personnel carriers were deployed to try to maintain order and Tahrir Square was ringed by barbed wire to prevent pro-Muslim Brotherhood marchers entering the square.

Supporters of toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi staged marches in 34 Cairo neighbourhoods , protesting his overthrow. In a statement published on their website Ikhwanweb the previous day, they vowed to continue their protests until they topple “the fascist coup regime”. Security forces fired volleys of tear gas and gunshots in the air to disperse the protesters. Scores were killed or injured in ensuing clashes with riot police and pro-military residents who hurled stones and bottles at the protesters. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested.

Pro-democracy activists meanwhile, staged a protest rally outside the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to express their opposition to authoritarian rule. “Down with military rule and down with the Muslim Brotherhood,” they chanted before being violently attacked by security forces and pro-military residents. The protesters ran for cover amid thick clouds of choking tear gas.

In the mayhem that followed, leftist activist Tarek Shalaby who was among the opposition protesters, sent a message on Twitter advising his comrades to “grab posters of El Sisi to avoid being targeted by riot police.” He also warned others to steer clear of the downtown area, describing it as “extremely dangerous.” For Sayed Elwez, a young member of the April Six group that played a key role in mobilising protesters ahead of the January 2011 uprising, the warnings were too little, too late. He was shot in the neck and chest by security forces while trying to escape. Ironically, Elwez had been among the thousands of secular volunteers in the Tamarod campaign, collecting signatures for a petition calling for Islamist President Mohamed Morsi’s resignation.

In recent weeks, the military-backed government’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters has widened, targeting dissenters of all stripes including liberal activists, journalists and prominent academics. Paradoxically, many of those targeted had previously opposed the Muslim Brotherhood president, aligning themselves with the country’s notorious security apparatus to remove him from office.

Two prominent Egyptian political scientists are the latest targets of the crackdown which rights activists say, is aimed at silencing all critics of the military-led authorities. Emad Shahin, an internationally-acclaimed and widely respected academic who has taught at Harvard and Notre Dame has been charged with “espionage and conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security”. His name has been added to a list of majority-Brotherhood defendants (which also includes the former President Mohamed Morsi) facing trial on similar charges that some rights activists believe are “politically motivated”. Shahin has denied the charges , insisting that his true offence “was criticism of the political events in Egypt since Morsi’s ouster”.

Amr Hamzawy, another political scientist and former lawmaker has meanwhile, been accused of “insulting the judiciary”. The legal complaint against him stems from a message he posted on his Twitter account in June, in which he criticized a court verdict sentencing 43 NGO workers to one to five year jail terms. The NGO staffers were accused of “working for unlicensed institutions and receiving illegal foreign funding”. Hamzawy described the verdict as “shocking and lacking in evidence and transparency”. The highly-publicised NGO case, also widely criticised by international rights activists, was seen by many as symbolising “a severe crackdown on civil society in Egypt”.

Amnesty International has criticized the widening crackdown on rights activists in Egypt, expressing concern that the Egyptian authorities were “tightening the noose on freedom of expression and assembly”. In a statement released soon after the charges were levelled against Shahin and Hamzawy, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International said “repressive legislation” was “making it easier for the government to silence its critics”. She warned that “with such measures in place” Egypt was “headed firmly down the path toward further repression and confrontation”.

Several prominent pro-democracy activists languish in jail for taking part in ”illegal protests”. Rights advocates say their imprisonment signals the return of Mubarak’s police state and that counter- revolutionary forces are back with a vengeance. In letters of despair leaked from their solitary prison cells, Ahmed Maher and Alaa Abdel Fattah (two symbols of the uprising against Mubarak) speak of a “failed revolution” that has been hijacked first by a religious group, then by the military.

In a letter to his two sisters written earlier this month, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah also wrote: “What adds to my feeling of oppression is that I feel this particular lock up has no value. This is not struggle, and there is no revolution.”

Journalists too have not been spared; in recent months they have continued to face physical assaults, intimidation and detentions. At least five journalists are currently behind bars for reporting on the ongoing political crisis. Three members of an Al Jazeera English TV crew have been in custody for nearly a month pending investigations on charges of “spreading lies harmful to Egypt’s national security and and joining a terrorist group”. In a letter recently smuggled out of his Torah prison cell, Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste recounts the ordeal of his two Egyptian colleagues who are being accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation and are held in a high security prison.

“Fahmy has been denied the hospital treatment he badly needs for a shoulder injury he sustained shortly before our arrest. Both he and Baher spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul- destroying tedium,” Greste lamented in his note published on the Al Jazeera English website.

Several journalists covering Saturday’s pro-military Tahrir rallies meanwhile, reported coming under attack from mobs who suspected them of working for Al Jazeera. The Qatari-based network is highly unpopular in Egypt because of what many Egyptians perceive as a pro- Muslim Brotherhood bias in its coverage of the political crisis in Egypt. Meanwhile , the state-run and state-influenced media alike are awash with conspiracy theories and talk of foreign plots to divide and destroy Egypt. This has fuelled the xenophobia in Egypt, posing a serious security challenge for foreign journalists covering the protest rallies. Journalist Nadine Maroushi who was attacked in Tahrir Square on Saturday has shared her traumatic experience on her blog:

“In Tahrir Square yesterday a man suggested we worked for Al Jazeera. An angry crowd quickly formed around us. ‘You traitor, you pig,’ a veiled woman shouted at me. She pulled my hair and grabbed at my scarf, choking me. The police intervened; I showed my press pass. They took us away to a building just off the square and told us to hide there for an hour until the crowd calmed down.”

A message posted by freelance journalist Bel Trew on Twitter on Saturday also warned that Tahrir was not safe for journalists. Trew’s tweet was retweeted more than a hundred times within minutes, triggering a frenzied exchange of telephone numbers to report assault and harassment of journalists. Egyptian photojournalist Mosa’ab El Shamy, meanwhile described it as “horrible day for journalists in Cairo. At least 5 (including a foreigner) were arrested, 2 are in hospital and 7 cameras have been seized by the police and confiscated,” he tweeted.

Three years on, the revolutionary activists’ hopes for dramatic change have all but faded. With the demands for freedom of speech, equality , dignity and an end to police brutality and corruption unfulfilled, the political turmoil and instability of the past three years have forced many Egyptians to drastically lower their expectations. Forsaking their ambitions for freedom and democracy — at least for now — many in Egypt have settled instead for the lesser hope of restoring stability in the country gripped by violence. Stability can only be guaranteed with a return to military rule , they say. But not all Egyptians have given up their revolutionary dream of a free and democratic society. A small but resilient group of young activists that refuses to bow under repression is keeping the dream alive. They are the country’s hope for change. “Today was a harsh defeat on a long and bumpy road,” Tarek Shalaby wrote on Twitter, but there is no going back.

This article was posted on 27 January 2014 at