Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja's trial today was adjourned until next Wednesday (November 3rd), and once again the judge refused to release him on bail, or house arrest. However I heard that the judge did allow Al-Khawaja to sit in the courtroom without handcuffs this time.
Outside, there was once again a demonstration by his supporters, numbering about 100 or 120 people I would estimate. This time though the authorities did not allow them to enter even the compound of the Ministry of Justice, so they protested in front of the main gate. After the violence at the court session on Wednesday, I don't think the authorities were being unreasonable in denying them entry. But I'm happy to say that there was no violence or unruly behaviour at today's demonstration. The leaders made very sure that there was a safe distance between the demonstrators and the police. To watch a video of the demonstration (once again with cheesy music added) click here (wmv 2.69MB).
For their part the cops were their regular goony selves, always appearing unsure of what they should be doing at any time. One funny thing (or not) was the Spy vs. Spy scene that was being played out in which we were taking photos of the cops, and they were taking pictures of us at the same time. While I'm quite used to seeing cops bearing guns or batons, it feels quite unnerving seeing them using surveillance weapons on us. While I know there are legitimate reasons for the police to record our faces and actions, I hate that it is being done (but I guess it's only fair since we were doing the same of them!). Maybe it's just my memories of the 90s that makes me feel so uncomfortable about this, when you'd here stories that anyone seen participating in "insurgent activities" would have a black mark on their government files for the rest of their lives. I think what annoys me more though is that it looked like those goons were using pretty nice (and expensive) cameras, whereas I'm still stuck with having to use my bloody toy of a camera.
At one point the protesters repeated their chants calling the police and the trial judge "mojanniseen" (naturalized Bahrainis). I gotta say that I agree with their sentiments, even though I'm a wannabe Bahraini myself. When I first arrived at the scene this morning I went to the entrance and asked the cop at the security post why we weren't allowed in, in Arabic. But the guy had to refer me to someone else because he didn't understand Arabic (yes! this guy spoke less Arabic than even me, which is a feat in itself!). Although I understand their economic backgrounds due to which they are so eager to work as cops (or anything) in Bahrain, I will be glad to see them replaced by Bahrainis loyal to the country, not just to the rulers. But it seems like plans to do that have been put on hold.
A general note on the Al-Khawaja affair. It is quite ironic that inside the courtroom Al-Khawaja's arrest and trial seems to fly in the face of democracy and freedom of expression, yet the scenes that are taking place just outside the courtroom show that Bahrain has possibly more freedom of speech than any other country in the entire Arab world. It's quite bizarre, and I'm not really sure how to reconcile these two contrasting images. In an AP report (via Khaleej Times), Al-Khawaja's wife is quoted as saying:
I am overwhelmed. I think people are not scared anymore and have begun to understand their rights. This is what my husband wanted.
I think she is right that more and more people are beginning to speak out, and this is absolutely unprecedented and was unimaginable (to me at least) just a few weeks ago. I continue to hope that the aftermath of this affair will be a significant step forward in the name of real democracy in Bahrain.
The next demonstration will be a car rally protest this Thursday evening at 8pm. I still have not heard any details of the venue, but I will update this post whenever I find out.
Update (8:14am, 26-Oct-04): I forgot to mention in my post yesterday that Al-Khawaja and his lawyers will be boycotting future court sessions of his trial since he views the trial as being "unconstitutional". (Read the report from Al-Jazeera). It seems a bit odd since I believe it was his lawyers who requested more time to prepare, which is why the trial was adjourned until Nov 3. Anyway, it would seem then that this could lead to the way towards Al-Khawaja being convicted and sentenced in absentia. For some reason I believe that the ruling family will not see this is as the best final outcome given the concerns that the international human rights groups would raise. Let's see what happens
With regards to the car rally protest to take place on Thursday evening, I still haven't been able to find out the exact venue, but a statement released by the BCHR yesterday said that several rallies would start from different points on the island and finally meet up in Manama. They want everyone to tie a blue coloured strip of material to the radio antennae of their cars. I have to hand it to the organizers of all these demonstrations. They are really going all out, and I imagine it requires a decent amoung of effort and money. The cost of all posters of Al-Khawaja's face alone must cost a fair amount, that someone has to foot.