Activists, they never die of hunger strike. Sooner or later they always win. Gandhi never died, he won. Suffragettes too, they won, so that all of us women can vote today. No one ever dies of hungerstrike.
Therefore Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, 51 years, activist and co-founder of the Bahrain Center For Human Rights, will not die.
Yet we do not know where he is. We do not even know how alive he is. Abdulhadi is protesting after having been refused a fair trial. He wants his life sentence to be reviewed. All that the authorities did, so far, was to postpone his court hearing. Days go by. Before it was day number seventy-six, yesterday was number seventy-seven. Bahrain is too far, our life too busy, and after all Abdulhadi, this Arab Gandhi of our times, could never die of hunger strike, because activists never die of hunger strike, one way or another they always end up winning.
Abdulhadi’s crime is to have spent a lifetime documenting and reporting human rights violations in that tiny island in the Gulf of oil and gas, an island called Bahrain which we know only thanks to the Formula One, the Fifth Fleet US marines roaming around, and a few cheap brothels placed there to amuse Saudi princes. That tiny island, though, also hosts one of the most remarkable examples of steadfast and fearless passive resistance movements – a popular movement against sectarian apartheid and human rights violations which Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, today at his 78th day of hungerstrike, helped founding decades ago. He denounced the fact that Bahrain is ran by a monarchy ready to kill its citizens on the basis of their religious confession. This commitment gained Abdulhadi a life as a runaway, him and his family, in and out of prison, one torture after the other, until that February 2011 when the Bahraini popular upraisal was repressed in blood and Abdulhadi was jailed for not shutting up.
Abdulhadi’s daughter, Zeinab Al Khawaja, told me the first time I met her, back in 2008 in Manama: “You know, once you know what your rights are, it’s hard to shut up”. Isn’t it simple. After you’ve learned that, she told me, freedom in your head is the only thing that matters. Freedom of thought can never be taken off from you. Just learn to not shut up. This is what brought Adbulhadi to start his hungerstrike, seventy eight days ago: he wants to be free. He knows it’s his right to be free. He knows that if they want to take your freedom, all they can have is just your life. So he stopped eating.
Day seventy-eight. Once you know, you cannot shut up. Tonight, Zeinab too she’s in jail. She was standing in the middle of a highway last Sunday, to protest against his father’s slow death, asking one car after the other to please not shut up. In Bahrain, this is enough to go to jail. But then again, if you knew that your unjustly imprisoned father was being left to die of hungerstrike somewhere, what would you do, would you shut up, or would you scream in the middle of a street?
Zeinab has a baby child. How would it feel to grow up without a grandfather, knowing he was left to die on a hungerstrike in jail? Personally I cannot imagine it. Because me too, I had a grandfather who was an activist and who was arrested for his political opinions, many years ago. When he was arrested, people did not shut up, so that in the end they eventually had to release him. But what if things would have gone wrong, what if at the time people chose to shut up? What if activists die of hungerstrikes?
But no, activists never die of hunger strike. And Abdulhadi will live. That’s what also Bahraini authorities tell us. That Abdulhadi is in good health. But Bahraini authorities are those ones who forbade the Danish Ambassador – Abdulhadi is a Danish citizen, for decades it was the only citizenship the world would allow him to have – from meeting Al Khawaja. Bahraini authorities are the ones who have been shooting against unarmed protesters for years, who have been teargassing nurses and arresting doctors who helped injured women and children. Bahrain authorities are the ones who have been running a cultural withewash – convincing sunni citizens to be afraid of shi’as like Abdulhadi, torturing with electroshocks and drills whoever tried to not shut up, beating journalists, dispossessing shi’as of their lands, forbidding them to work and to leave outside the ghetto they drew on the Eastern side of the Island of Bahrain. Those authorities have been “importing” Baluchi villagers from Pakistan and giving them weapons and orders to attack people like Abdulhadi. Those same authorities, faced with Abdulhadi’s imminent death, decided to postpone his trial of another week, hoping time will deliver them from the freedom of his mind. So how can we trust Bahraini authorities, how can we shut up?
Day seventy-eight. Somewhere in her cell, where they are probably beating her as it is practice in Bahrain, Zeinab is a few hours away from loosing her father. But then again activists, they never die of hunger strike. Right?
But what if Abdulhadi does.
How will we all look at ourselves in the mirror tomorrow, how can we shut up, now that we know?
Please take action. Advocate, campaign, protest in front of the Bahraini Embassy. You know now, so you cannot shut up. Demand freedom for Abdulhadi Al Khawaja. It’s already day seventy-eight.
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