Maryam Al-Khawaja, human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, planned to visit Kenyon this November. I have been emailing her since last March planning for her trip, in which she intended to speak openly to Kenyon students and faculty about the trials of life in Bahrain, a Persian Gulf country with a Sunni-minority government. Shi’a majority citizens face daily trials under this oppressive regime.
Al-Khawaja will not be visiting Kenyon this November because, in an attempt to visit her father in prison, she returned to Bahrain and was arrested for allegedly attacking a police officer, impersonating a Bahraini citizen and insulting the king. All of these charges are severe under Bahraini Law; Maryam faces a potential several years in prison for these offenses. Similar charges have been brought against other protesters, who have received sentences ranging from one year in prison to life imprisonment. Maryam’s father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, has been in prison since 2009 and has faced physical and sexual torture in the Bahraini prison system. Maryam’s trial has been arbitrarily postponed twice now, and Maryam is on a hunger strike.
Al-Khawaja states that she did not attack a police officer but rather froze as she was attacked — and medical reports of her shoulder confirm this claim. Her dual Danish-Bahraini citizenship is legitimate. Her heavy criticisms of the Bahraini government and rulers are founded in the state’s harsh behavior toward the vast majority of its citizens.
Many Americans are unaware of Bahrain’s human rights violations, as our government is a staunch supporter of the Bahraini government for its own interests — the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based there. By satisfying the military needs of a hegemony, Bahrain’s government has essentially confirmed that American media will ignore their strict violations of international human rights law.
What are these violations? Bahrainis are unable to protest, and peaceful protests often result in police-perpetrated violence against peaceful, unarmed protesters. Human Rights Watch has continually posted warnings about Bahrain’s infractions of international law.
In light of other events in the region, it is easy to ignore massive human rights violations on an island nation which serves as a base for regional American military power. I implore you — Kenyon students, faculty, staff and community members to educate yourselves about Bahrain’s deplorable actions.
Emma Conover-Crockett ’17
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