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Bahrain - Adam Shapiro finally gets to Meet jailed HRD Abdulhadi Al Khawaja
The drive out to the military court building took us on a main road bypassing villages and eventually newly built apartment buildings.
We were about 20 minutes outside of downtown Manama, and heading to a military base in order to visit with Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, father of Zainab Al Khawaja who was driving fast in the hope of getting to see her father. We were late on the road because Zainab was at the appeal hearing of her husband who was sentenced to a 5-year prison term.
At the military court building, Abdulhadi and his 13 other co-defendants are brought into two rooms where family members are allowed to spend 3 hours with them every two weeks. They are allowed to bring clothes, books, food and other things to the men, most of which is permitted to be taken back to the prison. When Zainab and I arrived, colleagues from other human rights organizations had already tried to get in to see Abdulhadi but had been turned away. I checked in with the military police guards and headed to the door where Zainab was waiting. She opened and I rushed in in front of her, and headed straight for her dad, standing at the front of the room. Normal Arabic greetings were shortened to a quick “Salaam” to others in the room, as I reached out my hand to grasp Abdulhadi’s. As we greeted in the traditional Arab style (kisses on each cheek), I explained who I was and that I was from Front Line. His face lit up and he almost started laughing. I heard a shout behind me and glanced over my shoulder to see the big military policeman gesturing me out of the room. Abdulhadi held onto my hand to keep me there another minute to tell me a message of thanks to Mary, Andrew and everyone at Front Line. I then left Abdulhadi to his family and chased after the policeman to find out what the deal was.
I finished the day by going to another village, Aker Sharqiya, to observe a protest march. The villagers had asked for human rights organisations to come, knowing that we were here, in part, because of the Bassiouni report. The plan was for the entire march to be in the interior of the village so as to avoid provoking the riot police from attacking. Walking through the village, after the protest, Zainab came up and showed me a rendering of her father’s face on a wall. On another wall in the village it had been painted over by riot police, but this was relatively new. The man I had earlier seen for minutes during his prison visiting time, who has 18 metal plates and 26 screws holding his jaw and face together as a result of the beating and torture he was subjected to, was staring at me from the wall in this poor village with a helicopter buzzing overhead, watching, monitoring.