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It is increasingly difficult to find positives when your friend has been on hunger strike for 50 days and has declared that he will pursue it to freedom or death. The shadow of despair gnaws at your heart as the days grind by.
Bahrain seems to have come to an impasse. Brutal repression, torture, killings, unfair trials and media censorship has not been able to silence a mass movement for change as was clear from the huge numbers demonstrating in Manama in the last days and weeks. And yet the Government is apparently paralysed and unable to engage in serious reform.
The mass demonstrations reinforce the fear and loathing of a privileged elite who have done so well out of autocratic rule. The longest serving unelected Prime Minister in the world is clearly an obstacle to any progress and yet he clings grimly to power. And the Saudi Arabians pull the hardliners strings.
It is in this context that human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja announced a hunger strike unto “freedom or death.” Abdulhadi is my friend and former colleague at Front Line Defenders. I know him to be a person of the greatest integrity and courage. He was arrested, brutally tortured and subjected to a show trial last year. He was sentenced to life in prison. He has already subjected his torture weakened body to four hunger strikes.
Today I attended Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's trial. Seeing our friend and ex-colleague in the dock, in prison uniform, was such an aberration of everything he stands for : - the deep and peaceful personal committment to human rights.
Abdulhadi is what I would call a "Gentleman" - thoughtful; kind and caring of others; full of integrity; gentle calm disposition and exquisite good manners.
I was very disappointed not to be allowed testify as a reference on his behalf - I reckon I know him better than those who seem determined to make him out to be something sinister.
Bahrain seems so peaceful as you come in from the airport - hard to believe that hundreds have been arrested for their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Bahrain has signed up to.
Let us welcome President Obama's condemnation of repression in Bahrain even if it is long overdue and was qualified by weasel words about legitimate Government concerns and Iranian interference. He rightly said "mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens." Talking more generally he also said "the truth cannot be hidden," and "repression will fail, and tyrants will fall."
David Cameron's unwise decision to welcome Bahrain's Crown Prince to Downing Street may also turn out to have a positive side. There was widespread criticism across the UK media from the Telegraph and Mail to the Guardian. The highlight was the Independent's front page banner headline "Cameron embraces tyranny" over a picture of him shaking hands with the Prince on the steps of 10 Downing Street.
One must hope that the media coverage delivered a blunt message to Bahrain's rulers in a way that British and US Government diplomacy has so far failed to do. The Crown Prince had previously been positioned as an advocate of dialogue and reform and might still play a positive role.