Maryam Abdulhadi Alkhawaja: A Defender of the People’s Rights Image: BahrainRights.org
Maryam Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is a Bahrani human rights defender and the current head of foreign relations office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. When looking at Maryam’s life, it would be hard to imagine her on any other path other than the one she has taken. She is the daughter of the prominent Bahrani human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkawaja and a commitment to the struggle for human rights are rooted in Maryam’s family. Born in Syria, Maryam’s father was exiled from Bahrain in the mid-1980s after continuous persecution by the Bahraini government for his activities as a human rights defender. At age two, she and her family were granted political asylum in Denmark where she lived until returning to Bahrain in 2001, as soon as they were allowed re-entry. She left Bahrain to attend Brown University in the US, until recently, when she returned to Bahrain to take part in the protests following the “Jasmine Revolution” (Arab Spring).
An outspoken voice
Maryam has been an outspoken voice about the violence used by the Bahrani government against peaceful demonstrators during the uprisings. The King is the supreme authority in Bahrain and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts. There are long-running tensions between Bahrain’s Sunnis and the Shia Muslim majority and on occasion, these have spilled over into civil unrest. Maryam has witnessed firsthand the brutality of the Bahrani regime and she describes often having seen her father return from peaceful protests with the signs of torture and beatings. In 2007, she led a BBC crew to Shiite villages as a translator to interview victims of the systematic oppression of Shiites and to expose the dire situation they face in Bahrain, where Shiites are discriminated against in all sectors of society. Maryam has campaigned tirelessly for Shiite rights in Bahrain, by listening to stories of discrimination and injustice and then spreading the messages to an international audience through her advocacy.
Following the protests in Bahrain earlier this year, many members of Maryam’s family, including her father, have been arrested by the Bahraini government. Her father was dragged from his home in the middle of the night, beaten unconscious, and taken away. He has since been sentenced to life imprisonment. Maryam, effectively exiled from Bahrain, has been traveling across the world raising awareness about her father’s imprisonment.
Activism is in her genes
It is clear that human rights activism and boundary-treading and is in Maryam’s DNA. At the tender age of 24, her tireless campaign and commitment to equality for the Bahrani people, is nothing less than inspiring.
Maryam Abdulhadi Alkhawajawill be speaking at the Frontline Club/BBC Arabic event at the Royal College of Surgeons on Friday December 16th 2011 as part of the event Women of the Revolution