‘UK, US should hold Bahrain accountable to human rights standards'
Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on Tuesday at a court hearing over an incident her sister, Bahraini human right activist Maryam explained. Zainab is about to give birth and is facing a jail sentence for tearing up a photo of the king.
RT:So tell me what happened?
Maryam Al-Khawaja: Of course what happened was Zainab had two hearings yesterday and she was supposed to have another hearing today. When she walked into a court room yesterday she was facing a charge of damaging public property, which was basically ripping up a picture of the king. She asked to speak in the courtroom that was full of people and she made a statement where she talked about how she was born - a free person to a free father and free mother - and that even if her son is born in prison he will be free as well. And then she said she had a right of responsibility to stand up to oppression and oppressors, that is when she ripped up a picture of the king and placed it in front of the judge who adjourned the trial and then had her arrested. Today she was taken to the public prosecutor after spending a night in prison. She has now been given seven days detention pending investigation on a new charge which is publicly insulting the king which carries a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment.
RT:What are the chances the court takes Zainab's pregnancy into consideration?
MK: Given that we are looking at the situation in Bahrain, where there have been widespread human rights’ violations for more than four years, I don’t know how much human conditions are taken into consideration when people are subjected to human rights violations. Zainab was practicing her right to free expression and shouldn’t be in prison to begin with. Now, whether or not they are going to take her pregnancy into consideration - I am not sure. The fact that they have given her seven days I think already shows that they are not taking into consideration the fact that she could be giving birth any time now.
RT:What are your next steps?
MK: I was myself released from prison not so long ago and was then allowed to leave the country. So I will continue what I have been doing for the past four years - which is helping to lead on the advocacy campaign and trying to bring respect to human rights within the country. One of the most important things is that the people within the country continue the struggle, which they have been. Also our job is to amplify their voices and make sure that they are heard abroad. One of the most important things is to get the United Kingdom and the United States to hold their allies accountable to the human rights standards that they say they stand for. Where the pressure really needs to lie is with the US and the UK and them getting Bahrain to respect human rights and international standards of human rights.
RT:What is preventing them now from holding those allies accountable?
MK: I would say several things: the geopolitical importance of Bahrain especially within the GCC countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the security agreements that they have with Bahrain: the US has its Fifth Fleet there, the UK has tremendous security agreements with Bahrain as well as arm sales. And then there is of course the economic aspect. The UK has tremendous relations with the Gulf when it comes to economic deals. It is going to be a tough ride trying to get the UK to make sure that the human rights files are on the table as well during those discussions about selling and buying jets and other arms between the UK and the Bahraini government.
RT:Why do you think your publicity doesn't help you and your family to avoid persecution?
MK: Of course, we have several prominent human rights defenders in prison right now, Zainab, my sister is one of them, Nabeel Rajab was also being held on a freedom of expression charge, Naji Fateel was tortured and sentenced to 15 years, my father was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the list goes on. The situation of bringing up the stories is very, very important. One of the main reasons I was released from prison and then allowed to travel was because of the international pressure that was created. That is why we focus on so much on creating international attention, public international attention about these cases, and about the human rights situation in Bahrain in general to try and pressure the Bahraini government to respect human rights.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.