And Now, Bahrain Censors the Media

First they came for the human rights activists. Now, Bahraini authorities are looking to censor the media.  From Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch urged Bahraini authorities on Tuesday to allow Al-Wasat newspaper editor Mansur al-Jamri to go back to work and drop what it called politically-motivated charges against him. His indictment has “left Bahrain without a single independent mass media outlet to report about the fierce repression that has killed more than two dozen people, wounded hundreds, and created a state of fear,” HRW said. ”Mistaken information is no justification,” it said, stressing Jamri had freely acknowledged having published false information in error. ”Bahrain’s rulers are showing they have no shame by muzzling the one media outlet that was widely regarded as the country’s only independent news source,” it said.

Jamri himself told AFP, in a statement by email, that he was questioned for more than two hours on Monday about the “false news” which he says was printed in error by Al-Wasat. The information originated from a single source, an IP address in a neighbouring Gulf state, he said. “I rejected all accusations that we knowingly published any false news.” Bahraini authorities said after the questioning that Jamri was being indicted along with Al-Wasat managing editor Walid Nuwaihidh and local news head Akeel Mirza. They stand accused of having published “fabricated” reports about last month’s unrest in Bahrain, where the Shiite-led opposition staged major protests demanding democratic reform in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

It is also worth re-posting in full this stinging letter to President Obama from Zainab Alkhawaja, who’s father is a prominent human rights activist that is being detained by Bahraini authorities.  The writer is going on a hunger strike until her father, husband and brother in law are released.

But perhaps most disturbing of all is where she decides to apportion blame for the human rights crackdown on-going in her country: the President of the United States. You may agree or disagree with this conclusion, but it is vitally important that we Americans understand that the United States is perceived by rights activists in Bahrain at best as a silent accomplice and at worst as a partner in crime to its repressive government.

Mr. President,
I write to you from Bahrain, after living through horrible injustice that I would never wish upon anyone in the world. Security forces attacked my home, broke our doors with sledgehammers, and terrified my family. Without any warning, without an arrest warrant and without giving any reasons; armed, masked men attacked my father.

Although they said nothing, we all know that my father’s crime is being a human rights activist. My father was grabbed by the neck, dragged down a flight of stairs and then beaten unconscious in front of me. He never raised his hand to resist them, and the only words he said were “I can’t breathe”. Even after he was unconscious the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him. This is a very real threat considering that in the past two weeks alone three political prisoners have died in custody. The special forces also beat up and arrested my husband and brother-in-law.

Since their arrest, 3 days ago, we have heard nothing. We do not know where they are and whether they are safe or not. In fact, we still have no news of my uncle who was arrested 3 weeks ago, when troops put guns to the heads of his children and beat his wife severely.

Having studied in America, I have seen how strongly your people believe in freedom and democracy. Even through these horrible times many of the people supporting me are Americans who never thought their government would stand by dictators and against freedom-loving people. To the American people I send my love and gratitude.
I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the Alkhalifa regime has already proven that they do not care about our rights or our lives.

When you were sworn in as president of the United States, I had high hopes. I thought: here is a person who would have never become a president if it were not for the African-American fight for civil liberties; he will understand our fight for freedom. Unfortunately, so far my hopes have been shattered. I might have misunderstood. What was it you meant Mr. president? YES WE CAN… support dictators? YES WE CAN… help oppress pro-democracy protesters? YES WE CAN… turn a blind eye to a people’s suffering?

Our wonderful memories have all been replaced by horrible ones. Our staircase still has traces of my father’s blood. I sit in my living room and can see where my father and husband were thrown face down and beaten. I see their shoes by the door and remember they were taken barefoot. As a daughter and as a wife I refuse to stay silent while my father and husband are probably being tortured in Bahraini prisons. As a mother of a one-year-old who wants her father and grandfather back, I must take a stand. I will not be helpless. Starting 6pm Bahrain time tonight I will go on a hunger strike. I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My unlce: Salah Alkhawaja.

I am writing this letter to let you know, that if anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American, Syrian or a Libyan and that regional and political considerations should not be prioritized over liberty and human rights.

I ask of you to look into your beautiful daughters’ eyes tonight and think to yourself what you are personally willing to sacrifice in order to make sure they can sleep safe at night, that they can grow up with hope rather than fear and heartache, that they can have their father and grandfathers embrace to run to when they are hurt or in need of support. Last night my one-year-old daughter went knocking on our bedroom door calling for her father, the first word she ever learnt. It tore my heart to pieces. How do you explain to a one-year-old that her father is imprisoned? I need to look into my daughter’s eyes tomorrow, next week, in the years to come, and tell her I did all that I could to protect her family and future.

For my daughter’s sake, for her future, for my father’s life, for the life of my husband, to unite my family again, I will begin my hunger strike.

Zainab Alkhawaja

11th April 2011