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Bahraini Human Rights Activist On Hunger Strike

Tasbeeh Herwees |
April 15, 2011 | 3:44 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

“Hello to my Twitter family & frnds,” tweeted AngryArabiya on Friday, “wanted to let u know I'm still ok. Not feelin hungry, but dizzy & weak & having alot of pain. the pain I am told is becuz of lack of calcium. But my hunger strike continues.”

The Bahraini political activist and prolific tweeter hasn’t eaten for six days. Her real name is Zainab Alkhawaja and she’s the daughter of human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who was was arrested and detained after a raid of her home by Bahraini authorities April 9th. Zainab’s husband, uncle and brother-in-law were also arrested in the same raid.

Zainab said that she would continue her hunger strike until her family members are released but her mother, Khadija Alkhawaja, told the Guardian that her daughter was already suffering health problems as a result of it. 

"I asked if I could put some sugar in her water because I can see her suffering and her daughter is crying for milk because she can't breastfeed her. She said no," said Khadija al-Khawaja. "...I told her you have a little girl whose father is not here and if anything happens to you… but she feels she needs to do something. She is very angry and very upset about what is happening."

Zainab captured the Twitter world’s attention when she chronicled the arrest in a series of tweets. 

“THEY JUST CAME! They took my dad, my dads blood is still on the stairs! They hit my dad so much! They beat him and he cudnt breath,” she tweeted on Saturday, about 30 minutes after their arrest, “they broke the doors, all wearing masks. They took my father and husband and brother in law.”

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been a vocal critic of the U.S.-backed Al-Khalifa regime, which has been ruling the region for more than 200 years, and a prominent activist of the Bahraini uprisings.

Like Egyptians before them, Bahrainis called for a “day of rage” on Facebook and set the date for February 14th. The largely Shi’ite protesters were asking for equal representation and reforms in the Sunni Muslim-led government. Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite population suffers from crippling poverty and unequal legal rights, and dissident voices of the regime are often silenced with censorship, imprisonment and torture. 

Following the lead of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Bahraini government responded to the February 14th demonstrations with military force, attacking protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Initially, protesters called only for reforms; now, they demand a complete overhaul of the current regime. 

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who was helping document the country’s human rights abuses, and Zainab Alkhawaja’s uncle, husband and brother-in-law were detained in the regime’s crackdown on the opposition’s pro-democracy movement.

Zainab expressed her anger in a letter to President Barack Obama on her blog on Monday. As an ally of Bahrain, the U.S.’s response to the brute force of the Al Khalifa family regime, Zainab says, has been passive

“What was it you meant Mr. president?,” wrote Zainab in her letter to Obama, “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?”

Zainab said she would hold Obama personally responsible for the lives of her detained family members.

“Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime,” she wrote, “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.”

The Alkhawaja family says they still don’t know what’s happened to their family members. 

Reach reporter Tasbeeh Herwees here



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