Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain
14th Feb 2002
Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Everyone has the right to express his opinion and publish it by word of mouth, in writing, or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law, provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism is not aroused.
It was always expected but never to be accepted. This morning a court sentenced Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to a year in prison, convicted of "inciting hatred against the government". He is now Bahrain's first political prisoner since King Hamad's reforms starting in 1999. This will surely be a source of embarassment for the Ruling Regime.
"The verdict is a dangerous step against human rights in Bahrain," said Joanna Oyediran, an AI representative, who attended the hearing.
"Khawaja is a prisoner of conscience and we demand his immediate and unconditional release. We will continue to campaign on this case," she told Reuters news agency.
Outside the court almost 200 protesters gathered in support of Al-Khawaja chanting anti-government slogans. I recorded some chants on my mobile to share them with you. (Unfortunately my ancient laptop that had an infrared port has died on me, so I had to transfer it to my desktop through a microphone. So apologies for the crappy quality).
- "tana7a ya khalifa" (mp3 442KB)
- "al qadi shino? mujannis!" (mp3 563KB)
- Something (mp3 441KB), I'm not sure what they're saying, but I uploaded it anyway. Maybe one of you can make it out.
On several occasions, the crowd broke in chants of "Death to Khalifa", but the protest leaders immediately brought it to a halt. I think the leaders generally did a good job of keeping the protesters under control. At the end of the protest I saw two men approach one of the leaders to complain about why they are packing up so early. The leader told them they would be issuing a programme of planned demonstrations soon. He then proceeded to stress the need for all of the activities to be peaceful in order for the protesters to maintain the moral upper hand. He must have told those two men at least five times that "the most important thing is to remain peaceful".
I also recorded a clip of the statement made by Al-Khawaja's wife, Khadija Al-Mousawi (pictured above). It's nothing new really, but anyways the link is here (mp3 958KB) if you're interested.
As I mentioned in my post after the second court session, this situation at the court is a bizarre one. Inside the courtroom, a citizen was jailed for criticizing the Prime Minister. Just outside the court, crowds of citizens held signs and chanted for the Prime Minister's resignation, yet the authorities did nothing. To me, this indicates that Al-Khawaja's arrest was not meant to set a precedent on how to handle things. Rather, it was probably just an attempted scare tactic gone wrong. Even though the authorities probably realized soon that the arrest was unwise, they could not just set him free because that would mean the Prime Minister would lose face... so they just kept on digging. On top of this is what seems to be a struggle between the Old Guard and the Reformists within the Ruling Regime itself.
So what are we left with? It's hard for me to imagine Al-Khawaja being released before completing his sentence (but it could happen if the King steps in). But this has given strength to the opposition and allows them portray themselves as victims. So the demonstrations are set to continue until a deal is reached, or the opposition tires out. There is talk of a protest being held tonight in Seef but there has been no official announcement yet. Emotions seem to be running very high, and even though the leaders have repeatedly stressed the need for peace, I fear that some misguided youths may carry out isolated acts of violence.
It seems the time has finally come for all of us to express our disapproval through whatever means we have: by blogging about it, by contacting our MPs and the government, by contacting international organizations, or by taking to the streets. I don't agree with everything said by Al-Khawaja in his capacity as a so-called "human rights activist", but I certainly think he has a right to express his opinion just like any other citizen. This is an extremely important issue because it is the first test case of whether King Hamad's reforms have any real substance to them. I am an optimist, so I want to believe that the reforms are real and that this whole "Al-Khawaja Affair" is just a necessary excercise along the road to democracy. In order for me to proven correct however Al-Khawaja needs to eventually get the justice afforded to him in a democracy. Therefore, the movement must continue.
Finally, here's some advice for the government:
Update (5:58pm): Watch this video (wmv 6.52MB) if you're not impressed with my crappy sound clips.
Update (7:46pm): A completely unconfirmed report is going around that Al-Khawaja and the remaining detainees have been given a royal pardon by the King. Does anyone have more info about this?