No 408, Posted by fw, February 13, 2012
“I feel an obligation to support people that are fighting injustice all around the world.” —Huwaida Arraf
“On Saturday, Bahrain arrested and deported two U.S. human rights lawyers, Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, for their role in recent protests. They were deported Sunday and returned to New York last night. Both Arraf and Sainath are human rights lawyers and members of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which places international observers in the country in the hopes of preventing violence by security forces. Their arrest comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the popular uprising against the U.S.-backed monarchy. In the past year, Bahraini security forces have killed dozens of demonstrators, and hundreds more have been arrested or fired from their jobs. ‘[We] also were getting reports of journalists and human rights organization representatives being denied entry into the country in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the Bahrain revolution. And this caused great alarm, that the government was planning to escalate its oppression of the people,’ says Huwaida Arraf.” —Democracy Now’s interview with Radhika and Huwaida, February 13, 2012
A 12-minute video of the interview is embedded below, followed by my abridged transcript which focuses solely on Radhika’s and Huwaida’s remarks. Alternatively, to watch the original Democracy Now video, including access to the full transcript, click on the linked title below.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: We were in touch with Bahrain human rights activists and knew of the situation on the ground and also were getting reports of journalists and human rights organization representatives being denied entry into the country in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the Bahrain revolution. And this caused great alarm, that the government was planning to escalate its oppression of the people. And together with Bahraini human rights activists, we decided to try to provide independent monitors. And that’s how Witness Bahrain was launched.
We coordinated with some known human rights activists that have had experience in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Pakistan and in other regions, and we went. We did not announce the initiative until we were in the country, knowing that they would probably stop us. But that being said, we did not, in any way, forge or lie our way in. But once we got in and we announced ourselves—we announced ourselves on Friday to alert the government that we are watching in the hope that they would lessen their violence against demonstrators, and we were—two of us were arrested on Saturday and then deported almost immediately. And I believe they’re looking for the rest.
RADHIKA SAINATH: Well, you know, what I experienced there was outrageous. And I just want to say, as an American, if I was treated in such a way, we can only imagine how Bahraini human rights activists are treated. And, you know, as Huwaida said, we came to both support Bahraini democracy activists in their struggle for human rights and equality, but also to monitor and document the police and the Bahraini government’s treatment of peaceful protesters. And that’s what we were doing on Saturday when the Bahraini authorities arrested us and initiated deportation proceedings.
RADHIKA SAINATH: I mean, I think that it’s completely outrageous, the United States’ support for the Bahraini regime militarily. And it’s really important that the U.S., that Barack Obama not find a way to support the military regime by this aid package. I do believe that it is—it does show support. And the Bahrainis know it. And when we were talking to human rights activists, repeatedly, the first thing they mention is, “Why is the United States supporting the Bahraini police with tear gas and with weapons? You know, we want basic freedoms such as the ones that you have in the United States. And, you know, why is your government not acknowledging that?”
HUWAIDA ARRAF: And I want to also make a comment on the role of the U.S., the U.S. administration. When we were in detention, the representative of the U.S. embassy did come visit us. And one thing that the police forces wanted to do is to take away all of our equipment, and they did, by force. But the American embassy representative was relaying that to us, in that they have a right to take away our equipment.
And I said to her, “Well, our footage, we are documenting—we did interviews with people that had been tortured, with leaders of the pro-democracy movement, and I am very worried that this footage and this documentation is going to be used to target these activists. And you know what a horrible human rights record the Bahrain administration has. So I’m asking you, I’m asking the American government, to do something to make sure that the Bahraini government will not use the equipment and the material that they confiscate from me in order to target human rights activists.” And the response was, “Well, we’ll put your request through.” And then there was nothing. And actually. the representative said, “Well” — she said to me, “Well, you took that chance, you know, with filming these things.”
And so, I’m really horrified because, you know, the U.S. government talks about a respect for human rights and democracy, and yet they wouldn’t do something basic as take some kind of measure to make sure that what the government was going to take from us by force wouldn’t be used to target and possibly torture more democracy activists.
RADHIKA SAINATH: And just to add to that, they confiscated both of our laptops, Huwaida’s video camera, digital camera, iPad—
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Phones.
RADHIKA SAINATH: —cell phones, BlackBerry—everything that we have. And it’s still in Bahraini custody, and they’ve refused to turn it over. And, you know, some of that equipment has photographs of human rights activists, phone numbers, other things. And we’re very concerned about how that’s going to be used by the government of Bahrain.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: —The vice consul that came to see us. Nothing. Basically, she just asked if—she just came to see if—asked if we had been mistreated and then to convey that the Bahraini government, what they’re doing is very typical and that they have a right to confiscate all of our equipment.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: We were [handcuffed] on the flight from Bahrain to London. We came via London. We were both put in very tight hard plastic cuffs. We were cuffed behind our back, so we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t eat, drink or go to the restroom.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: No, we haven’t heard a bit of protest yet. And we’re hoping and we’re hoping that people that hear this, and that even though we’ve been deported and we’re upset that we can’t be present in Bahrain, that maybe being here in the United States, we can do something to raise people’s consciousness about what’s happening and to have them protest the administration’s support of the Bahraini government.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Well, I think that it is an obligation for people—I feel an obligation—to support people that are fighting injustice all around the world. And in the same way that I’m resisting the Israeli occupation and supporting Palestinian freedom, supporting freedom protesters in Cairo, in Egypt, in Syria, in Bahrain, it’s all part of that—the Occupy Wall Street movement. I mean, we are all fighting for basic freedom, democracy, human rights. And the idea for Witness Bahrain actually came from our experiences with the International Solidarity Movement, when we called on people from around the world to come to the occupied Palestinian territories and to stand with Palestinians that are being brutalized, brutally suppressed by the Israeli government, so that they can witness, document, and hopefully, with their presence, lessen the violence of the Israeli government. We thought that the same might work in Bahrain.