BREAKING NEWS BAHRAIN: "We want our children to have their mothers back"
One woman has died in captivity and over 20 are still detained in undisclosed locations in Bahrain, during a violent government crackdown on protesters.
Women are arrested and tortured by government forces in order to deter their relatives from continuing to protest, said Lebanese freelance journalist Zeinab Al-Saffar in an interview with SAVE.
"The message the government forces are sending is: If you don’t calm down, we will attack your women," said Al-Saffar, who has close ties with citizens in Bahrain. Three of the 20 missing women are believed to be pregnant, and many more are mothers. "We want these children to have their mothers back," said Al-Saffar.
In total, over 500 people have disappeared during the unrest. Several have died during their imprisonment, including a 12-year-old boy and the prominent businessman and member of opposition party Wefaq, Kareem Fakhrawi. The authorities refuse to release the bodies, blaming the deaths on chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart problems, according to Al-Saffar.
In many cases, whole families are held in captivity. Zainab Alkhawaja, the daughter of prominent activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, is on hunger strike to protest the arrest of her father, husband, brother-in-law and uncle. She announced her protest action through her blog, addressing herself to US President Barack Obama, as she said that her own government has "proven that they do not care about our rights, or our lives."
Protests began on February 14, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. For a month, demonstrators peacefully demanded reform, but did not aim to oust the current regime. The protests, which often centred on Pearl Square and its iconic pearl monument, escalated until Bahrain saw its biggest demonstrations ever, with an estimated 200,000 people taking to the streets - about a fifth of the national population.
On March 14, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a 3-month state of emergency and cracked down on the protesters, choosing violence over dialogue. Aided by neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he invited foreign troops into Bahrain in an attempt to quell opposition to his regime. The monument in Pearl Square has been demolished by the government, as it has come to represent the spirit of the protest movement.
The protesters have now changed their demands, aiming to topple the regime and achieve wide-ranging constitutional changes.
Despite the severity of the crisis in Bahrain, few reports have surfaced in the international media. The government in Bahrain is enforcing a media blackout, and Bahrain is also a close ally of the United States, hosting a large US naval base. US politicians such as Hilary Clinton have expressed tempered criticism of the government’s behavior.
Women in Bahrain have been taking an active part in anti-government demonstrations. The population of Bahrain is only 800,000, and since 2002, various reforms have introduced improved political and social rights for women. They are economically active, and Al-Saffar expects that in the event of a new regime, women’s voices will be louder in the reform process than they have been in countries like Egypt.
Amnesty International is organizing a petition calling on King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to conduct full inquiries into the deaths of protesters, guarantee the right to peaceful protest and freedom of association, and release all opposition activists immediately. Read more about this action here.