One months after the hunger strike – what we can do to #FreeNazanin

I assume almost all of you have heard in the meantime about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker who is in Evin prison in Iran. One months ago, on 15 June 2019 she started a hunger strike. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe joined her and also went on hunger strike. This blog post is about their hunger strike, the support they received and what we can do to continue supporting the campaign for her release. 

I. Background 

1. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ordeal started more than three years ago. In March 2016 Nazanin travelled to Iran to visit her parents and to celebrate Nowruz (Iranian New Year). Nazanin went together with her daughter Gabriella who was at that time 21 months old.

On 3 April 2016, when Nazanin wanted to travel back to London and went with Gabriella to Tehran’s Iman Khomeini Airport, she was arrested by officials who were likely part of the Revolutionary Guards. Nazanin was allowed to leave her daughter in the care of her parents and was then taken by the officials. 

2. She was first in Kerman prison, about 1000 km from Tehran. In mid June 2016 she was transferred to section 2-A of Evin Prison in Tehran. She spent about 130 days in solitary confinment, first in Kerman prison and then in Evin prison.  At the end of December 2016 / beginning of January 2017 she was transferred to the Women’s Ward in Evin Prison.   

In an unfair trial Nazanin was sentenced to five years in prison i.a. for “membership of an illegal group” in connection with her work for BBC Media Action and Thomson Reuters Foundation. The court of appeal confirmed her conviction in January 2017. In October 2017 she appeared again in court in a second case. This second case is still open and with it the threat of even more years in prison.

3. Nazanin developed several health problems and went in January 2019 on a three day hunger strike to protest against the lack of medical care. United Nations human rights experts published a statement on 16 January about the denial of medical treatment for Nazanin and for Narges Mohammadi, another prisoner of conscience:

“Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual UK-Iranian national, has been denied appropriate health care by the Iranian authorities for lumps in her breasts, severe neck pain, and numbness in her arms and legs, her husband has said. She has also been denied appropriate mental health care from outside Evin Prison. “

The experts urged Iran to give Nazanin and Narges access to appropriate medical care and also called for their release.

Nazanin still has not received sufficient access to medical care. A few days ago (10 July) the UN human rights experts published another statement. They expressed in particular concern for Arash Sadeghi who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer and does not receive medical care. They also mentioned the lack of medical attention for two dual nationals Ahmadreza Djalali and Kamran Ghaderi. Regarding Nazanin and Narges they said:

“Two women, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Narges Mohammadi, whose health concerns were detailed in a January 2019 public statement,** have also continued to be denied appropriate healthcare.”

II. Hunger Strike

1. One months ago, on 15 June Nazanin’s husband Richard announced that he had a call from her and that she has begun a new hunger strike to protest her continuing unfair imprisonment.

Richard decided to join her in her hunger strike and began a “continual vigil in front of the Iranian Embassy”. He said that he will also not eat and continue with the hunger strike as long as she continues.

His demands were the following: 

“I vowed last time that if she ever went on hunger strike again, we would not leave her to go through this ordeal alone. My requests to the Iranian authorities for my fast are:

1. For Nazanin’s immediate release.
2. For an immediate visit to Nazanin by the British Embassy to check on her health – after 3 years it is an outrage this continues to be blocked by Iran.
3. If no release is granted to her in the next few weeks, a visa for me to go to Iran.”

2. Richard mentioned in his announcement  that he will “perhaps occasionally [be] joined by friends and family”. I think during the two weeks of hunger strike there was not much time, if any at all, when he was not joined by others.

One of Richard’s family members – his parents, his brothers and his sister and their partners – was almost always with him outside in front of the Iranian Embassy – stayed with him during the day or slept there during the night in one of a few small tents. But there were many more visitors, friends, supporters of the Free Nazanin campaign, but also strangers who lived close by and visited him or had heard about Nazanin and the hunger strike and had decided to travel to the Iranian Embassy. Some travelled a considerable distance to see him. Some came once to show their support, others visited him several times. There were also many Iranians who came and visited Richard, some with their own stories of unfair imprisonment.

There were many actions and events organised by Amnesty International, including a candle light vigil at which we read Haikus as well as poems written by Nazanin and other women in Evin prison. At another afternoon session, peope painted stones. There were also two occasions on which supporters sung “Songs for Nazanin”. Here are a few photos:

3. During the two weeks on hunger strike there were also many notable visitors. Many people had written to their MPs and asked them to visit Richard at the embassy. There were more than 100 MPs who made their way to South Kensington to show their support. They were from all parties and included Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the opposition, Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Penny Mordaunt, Secretary of State for Defence (Conservatives), John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, Ian Blackford, Leader of SNP in Westminster, Tom Brake (Liberal Democrats), Caroline Lucas (Green Party) and many others. There were not only MPs who visited Richard, but also other politicians, like Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and many councillors.

There was also a lot of interest of the media in his hunger strike with many journalists visiting Richard for an interview. During this time, there were numerous articles in all major UK newspapers, but also reporters from different broadcasting companies came and made interviews. Not only UK media was interested, but also international media.

If you follow this link you can watch a short report which the German TV (Das Erste) made for their “Morgenmagazin” (morning TV programme).

Richard received even letters and postcards which were addressed at “Tent outside the Iranian Embassy”.

4. The Iranian Embassy was not pleased with the huge attention the hunger strike received. The ambassador complained that their door was blocked and that the media attention meant that everyone who entered or left the embassy would be filmed what they considered to be unacceptable. They also decided that the railing in front of the embassy needed painting or at least cleaning and erected metal screens to block the view to the embassy. It was interesting to see the reaction of the embassy. They behaved very similar to the Bahraini Embassy last year when Ali Mushaima went on hunger strike to get medical care for his father who is in prison in Bahrain and slept on the pavement in front of the embassy.

Ultimately the Iranian Embassy could not really do anything against the protest. In my opinion the best symbol for the futility of their endeavours was the fate of the metal screen. The screen developed into a message board. At the end of the hunger strike it was full of post-it notes, letters, newspaper articles and other tokens of support.

4. On Saturday, 29 June, Richard Ratcliffe received a call from Nazanin in which she told him that she ended her hunger strike. He announced then the end of his hunger strike. Richard did a daily short video clip and here is the clip on day 15 of their hunger strike which includes this announcement.

III. What we can do to continue to support the campaign

The two weeks of Nazanin’s and Richard’s hunger strike resulted in an incredible level of support for them. I mentioned above how many MPs, friends and supporters came and showed their solidarity with them. There were even a considerable number of MPs who wore “Free Nazanin” badges during Prime Minister Questions.

However as the time passes there will be other topics which will get headlines and there is a risk that people forget that Nazanin is still in prison and that there is still a family separated by thousands of kilometres and by prison walls.

There are a couple of things you can do to help:

1. There are two petitions for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Change.org petition has already more than 2.3 million signatures, but maybe you know someone who has not yet sign this petition. Ask them to do so and please also share the petition online and offline. There is also a comparatively new petition from Amnesty International. This petition has currently more than 200,000 signatures. Please also sign and share this petition.

2. Please write to the Iranian authorities and demand Nazanin’s release. Gulf Centre for Human Rights published recently an appeal for Nazanin, but also for two other women who are prisoners of conscience in Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi. You can find more information in that appeal, in particular if you are not sure what you should write to the the Iranian authorities.

3. You can also write to the Iranian Ambassador in London. Here is a template for a message (you can obviously omit the last paragraph)

4. Please also write to your MP. If they visited Richard at the Embassy, then thank them for their support. Please ask them in any case to follow up what is done by UK to get Nazanin released.

5. Please also follow Free Nazanin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Share their posts with your friends and followers. Help to raise awareness and remind people that she is still in prison.

6. REDRESS is another human rights organisation which has also campaigned for a long time for Nazanin. They launched recently a Justgiving website and ask people for donations. They try to raise £15,000 to continue their “legal and advocacy work on Nazanin’s case, and cases like hers”. Please consider giving a donation. 

I wrote this blog post, because I want to encourage you to help to make sure that the momentum which developed during the hunger strike is kept and that people don’t forget about this family. Please continue to support Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella until Nazanin is finally released and they are all reunited at their home in London.

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Zelenka: Litaniae De Venerabili Sacramento – Music for a Roman Catholic Court in Protestant lands

The Summer Concert of Highgate Concert will be a wonderful selection of some famous and some almost unknown works of the baroque period. The Highgate Choral Society will be joined by four soloists and the New London Orchestra. The concert takes place on Saturday 6 July 2019, 7pm at All Hallows’ Church, Savernake Road, Gospel Oak NW3 2JP.

The concert will start with one movement out of Telemann’s famous “Tafelmusik” (for orchestra). You will also have a chance to hear two different settings of the Magnificat – one by Vivaldi and the other one which was either composed by Pergolesi or his teacher Durante. Probably Vivaldi’s most popular choral piece his Gloria will be performed as well as two solo arias from Handel’s oratorio Samson.

This blog post is about the work which I personally find the most exciting one of the programme: Litaniae de Venerabili Sacremento by Zelenka.

1. Jan Dismas Zelenka was born on 16 October 1679 in Louňovice pod Blaníkem, a small village about 70 km from Prague. His father was schoolmaster and organist in Louňovice and probably his first music teacher. Zelenka was the eldest of eight children.

There is not much known about his early life. There are some early compositions for the Jesuit College Clementinum in Prague. Therefore it is assumed that he was educated at this college. He also kept contact with Jesuits later in life and was commissioned to write music by them on several occasions. Baron Johann Hubert von Hartig was an important patron of the college and he was also Zelenkas first employer and patron in 1709. Von Hartig had an impressive music library in particular Italian music and Zelenka took great interest in this music.

2. It is likely that Baron von Hartig also recommended Zelenka for his next job at the Hofkapelle (Court Orchestra) in Dresden. Zelenka started working in Dresden in 1710 or 1711. He was not employed as a composer or musical director, but rather as viole (or double bass) player in the orchestra.

The court in Dresden was an interesting place at that time. The Royal court was musically and culturally one of the most important ones in Europe. The court orchestra consisted of 40 players and had a very high standard. But there were other reasons which made the Dresden court distinctive. Frederick Augustus I of Saxony had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1697 to be eligible as King of Poland and was crowned in Krakow as August II of Poland. However, he knew that it would be impossible to force his subjects to convert to Catholicism, because Saxony is the mother country of reformation in Germany. In the 16th century the Elector of Saxony took Martin Luther under his special protection. Therefore the Royal Court became Roman Catholic, but the aristocracy and the people of Saxony stayed Lutheran. This difference in denominations led to rivalry and tensions between the Catholic court and the protestant aristocracy and the people.

Musically it meant that the Royal Court required music for the Roman Catholic liturgy and Zelenka’s first composition for the court was a mass setting, Missa Sanctae Caeciliae (in 1711) which he dedicated to his employer. He combined his dedication with a request to study in Italy and France. It is unclear whether he travelled in the end to Italy and France, it is more likely that he did not, but the mass must have impressed the court, because Zelenka’s salary was increased from 300 thalers to 350 thalers shortly afterwards. By 1714 it was increased again to 400 thalers.

3. In 1716 Zelenka was allowed to go to Vienna. He studied there with the Habsburg Imperial Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux. He also made an important collection of vocal and instrumental music which he took with him to Dresden (Collectanoerum musciorum libiri quatour). Zelenka was in Vienna not only to study, but also to serve the Electoral Prince who had arrived there on 6 October 1717. The prince had converted to Catholicism in 1712, however this was initially kept a secret, because the court feared protests. In 1717 his conversion was publicly announced and at the same time he suggested himself as husband of a Habsburg princess. In 1719 he married Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria, eldest child of Joseph I, the Holy Roman Emperor who had died in 1711 and niece of the then Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. The marriage treaty ensured that she would be able to practice her Catholic religion free and unhindered in Saxony; however there was an exception for public processions which were not allowed. 

In 1719 the newly wed couple returned to Dresden and so did Zelenka. Maria Josepha became a strong patron of Catholic music at the Dresden court and also a patron of Zelenka.

Zelenka composed about 20 mass settings, music for Holy Week, settings of the requiem and a considerable number of psalm setting, Marian antiphons (hymns in honour of the Virgin Mary) and other hymn settings. In 1722 Zelenka was asked to write a secular work for the coronation of Charles Vi and the empress as King and Queen in Bohemia. He wrote a melodrama about St. Wenceslas, the patron Saint of Bohemia with the title Sub olea pacis ete palma virtutis conspicua orbi regia Bohemiae Corona. This was an allegorical music drama which required 150 performers and elaborate costumes and staging. Zelenka stayed in Prague in 1722 – 1723 to conduct the premiere of this work.

4. Zelenka’s position at the court in Dresden did not change for a long time. He composed a considerable number of sacred music, but had still the position and the salary of a middle-ranking instrumentalist. In 1726 he began an inventory of his compositions. In 1729 the musical directors of the Dresden Court Kapellmeister Johann David  Heinichen died and Zelenka  took over most responsibilities of the Dresden Royal chapel. The opera in Dresden had been closed a couple of years earlier, but the court hired a group of Italian singers and Zelenka wrote secular arias and was responsible for their musical training. In 1731 he also achieved an increase in his salary which brought it to 550 thalers.

On 1 February 1733 the Elector Frederick August I died and Zelenka wrote a requiem mass. It was clear that the position of the director of music (Kapellmeister) would again be filled. Zelenka petitioned the successor Elector Frederick August II (and King August III of Poland) to appoint him as Kapellmeister. However this did not happen. Johann Adolph Hasse, a prominent opera composer and husband of the famous mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni, was appointed as Kapellmeister. He arrived in 1734 in Dresden and re-established the opera in Dresden. Hasse and Bordoni received a combined salary of 6000 thalers more than 10 times Zelenka’s salary at this time. Zelenka was not appointed as second director music, but he received in the same year the title for the new post of “Church composer”.

Zelenka stayed in Dresden for the rest of his life. He died in the night of 22 and 23 December 1745 in Dresden and was buried on Christmas Eve in the Catholic Cemetery in Dresden. Maria Josepha paid for a requiem mass to be held for Zelenka within one month and also purchased his composition and musical estate to preserve it in Dresden.

5. Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento (ZWV 147) is a work for four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), mixed chorus and orchestra which includes two trumpets and timpani. It was completed on 1 June 1727. It is a work for Corpus Christi and was first performed on 12 June 1727. Litanies are long, multi-sectioned calls for intercessions. They were very popular in Dresden. Zelenka wrote ten litany settings, they were especially directed to the Virgin Mary, All Saints or the Fest of Corpus Christi. Usually a litany was meant to be sung in procession. Therefore the music of litanies are often very simple. However in Dresden, Catholic public processions were not allowed, out of fear of public protests by the Protestant population. In 1725 the King considered a procession in the gardens of the Summer Palace, but there were threats of major protests. In end it was raining and the procession was inside. A procession outside was very likely not even considered in 1727, because the year before (1726) brought major riots to Dresden which started after the archdeacon of the Protestant Kreuzkirche was killed by a Catholic soldier. This lead to days of riots in which property and religious symbols were destroyed and the Catholics had to flee the city for fear of life. Therefore the Corpus Christi procession in 1727 was held inside, as usual either in the palace or the royal chapel. This meant the litany settings could be musically far more elaborate.

The Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento consists of eleven movements: The setting starts with two kyrie settings for chorus. In the second one the traditional Kyrie text (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy) is interspersed with the text Christe exaudi nos (Christ hear us). For next six movements, movements for different combinations of soloists and for chorus alternate. Movement 4 (Praecelsum et admirabile) and movement 7 (Propitius esto) are chorus. Movement 3 (Pater coelis) and movement 5 (Panis onipotentia) are for two soloists each, movement 3 for soprano and alto and movement 5 for tenor and bass. In the next solo movement (movement 6 Spiritualis dulcedo) the number of soloists is increased to three (soprano, alto and tenor) and movement 8 (Ab indigna Corporis) all four soloists come together. Movement 9 (Peccatores te rogamus) brings then all four soloists and chorus together. The soloists are given majority of the text in this movement and the chorus sings interjections with the text te rogamus audi nos which means “we ask thee, hear us”. The work ends with two movements for chorus. Movement 10 (Fili Dei te rogamus) feels almost like an extension of movement 9 and the choir continues to sing “we ask thee, hear us”. The last movement 11 is a setting of the Agnus Dei for chorus.

Zelenka’s music style is quite distinct and daring. There are often chromatic progressions and sudden turns of harmony. Some of his music is influenced by Czech folk music. This influence can in particular be seen in rhythmic inventions. All this elements of his style can also be found in the Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento.

6. During Zelenka’s life time he was held in high esteem for example by J.S. Bach. He was also a close friend of Telemann.

A comment published by Lorenz Mizler in 1747, not long after Zelenka’s death illustrates this esteem very well:

Dresden. Here, the superb church composer Johann Dismas Zelenka is greatly mourned. [He] died on 22 [23] December 1745 after the Prussians had, a few days earlier on 18 December, occupied and captured Dresden. His splendid tuttis, beautiful fugues, and above all the special skills in the church style, are sufficiently known to true lovers of music.

After this death he was virtually forgotten until his rediscovery by Bedřich Smetana.

Zelenka’s music is now occasionally played and there are also a number of recordings of his music. In my opinion he is not played often enough. It is exciting music to sing and it certainly deserves to be much better known. I am glad that Highgate Choral Society can help in this endeavour by including one of pieces in the concert.

Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know the human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, because I have written quite a number of blog posts about him and I tweet about him regularly. I decided to write this blog post, because there is devastating news from United Arab Emirates which I want to share with you.

I. Background

I start with a few background information for those who are not so familiar with his case.

Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is married and a father of four little boys. He is an engineer, a highly regarded member of several human rights organisations, Martin Ennals award winner and he is a poet.

On 20 March 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. There are allegations that he was tortured. On 29 May 2018 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor you can have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights Defender in the United Arab Emirates ” and “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights“.

II. Hunger Strike

1. On the 7 April Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) published an article and shared it on Social Media. They mentioned that they received reports from “local sources” which informed them that Ahmed Mansoor had been on hunger strike for three weeks to protest against the poor prison conditions and the unfair trial.

They clarified in an article earlier this week that he started his hunger strike on 17 March 2019, therefore around the time of the second anniversary of his arrest.

2. The details of the information they received are horrible: He is kept in isolation in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi and he had been in solitary confinement the whole time since his arrest more than two years ago. GCHR has also quite heartbreaking details about his cell and his general health:

“GCHR received news in early April that Mansoor was being kept in a cell with no bed and no water, and that he was held in “terrible conditions”, according to a confidential source. He was moving slowly and very weak.”

Apparently his family has not been able to see him since he started his hunger strike. It seems that family visits are not banned, but they were always very restricted anyway. Ahmed Mansoor’s mother was so far not allowed to visit him at all and she is very ill herself. I was previously told that Ahmed Mansoor is not even allowed to call his family. It seems that this has not changed.

3. In the meantime Ahmed Mansoor has been on hunger strike for almost six weeks. GCHR reports that his health has deteriorated further and that in particular his eyesight got so bad that he needs special glasses.

Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, Lynn Maalouf summarised the situation in a press releases on 10 April in a very appropriate way:

“It is clearly not enough for the UAE authorities to have wrongly convicted and sentenced Ahmed Mansoor to 10 years behind bars. It seems they want to further crush him by making his life in prison unbearable, including by keeping him in solitary confinement since his arrest two years ago.”

III. Support for Ahmed Mansoor

Amidst all this devastating news about Ahmed Mansoor’s current situation, there are also some positive signs in form of increased support for him by individual activists and new urgent action and statements by many human rights organisations.

1. “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor”

On 10 April I came across a newly established Facebook page “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. April Allderdice who lives in the US set up this Facebook page the day before. She knows Ahmed Mansoor from the time when he went to the grad school in Colorado, USA. She set up the page to raise awareness about his situation and to link people who campaign for him all over the world. If you use Facebook, then please consider liking and following this page.

There is now also an active Twitter account “Friends of Ahmed Mansoor“. If you are on Twitter, then please consider following this account. It would be great, if the account had more follower and in particular even more people who retweet and share the information about him.

We will share on Facebook and Twitter articles, but also information about actions which are taken in support of Ahmed Mansoor around the world. On Twitter we plan to retweet all tweets about him and will obviously also send our own tweets. If you plan anything then please let us know with a Tweet or a message on Facebook. We are happy to share it further.

We also started a few days ago a photo action and ask people to send photos of their protests for Ahmed Mansoor. It can be a photo of a group of people protesting or also just a selfie in which you are holding a photo of Ahmed or a message asking for his release. Here is more information about the action and some examples. Please join the campaign and let us show the UAE authorities how many people care for him and campaign for him.

2. Urgent actions by human rights organisations

a) Amnesty International published an urgent action on 9 April. They recently changed the form of their urgent actions. This means that the pdf of the urgent action contains now a sample letter which you can easily copy and send to the UAE authorities. Please do so.

b) English PEN, Pen International, GCHR and many other human rights organisations published on 15 April a joint urgent action for Ahmed Mansoor. They ask members and supporters to “take action by writing, faxing, tweeting and posting on Facebook”. You can find addresses, fax numbers and also many Twitter handles in their articles. Here is a link to the English PEN article.

3. Sample tweets by ISHR

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is one of the organisation which takes part in the joint action. They prepared a number of sample tweets and they agreed that I can share them so that people can use them on Twitter, if they are not sure what they should tweet in support of Ahmed Mansoor.

Here are the sample tweets:

  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor dared to express his opinions on social media. Now he is on hunger strike in protest over the unfair trial and poor prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2113
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor is honoured around the world for his courageous activism and for speaking up for prisoners of conscience. In #UAE he is punished for this and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • Award-winning human rights defender @Ahmed_Mansoor has been on hunger strike for a month now, protesting his unfair trial and poor prison conditions. Please call for his immediate & unconditional release! Help to #FreeAhmed
  • .@Ahmed_Mansoor gave his best in defence of others’ freedom. But in #UAE he is punished for it and held in inhumane prison conditions. #UAE #FreeAhmed now!
  • We urge #UAE to immediately and unconditionally release @Ahmed_Mansoor and other human rights defenders who are imprisoned solely for their peaceful human rights activities @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: @Ahmed_Mansoor and other prisoners of conscience should be treated in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, incl. being provided with proper medical care, sanitary prison conditions and regular family visits. @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed
  • #UAE: Allow UN experts or international NGOs access to visit @Ahmed_Mansoor, as well as other human rights defenders detained in Emirati prisons @HHShkMohd #FreeAhmed @ForstMichel @OHCHR_MENA @EP_HumanRights

GCHR provided the first picture and ISHR the other two pictures:

Please feel free to use these pictures. There are also quite a lot of pictures and graphics in my blog post about the Twitter Day at the anniversary of his arrest last year. Some refer specifically to the first anniversary of his arrest, but others are still correct. Please feel free to use also these photos and graphics from last year. A tweet with a graphic always gets so much more engagement.

IV. Conclusion

Let us also hope for good news from UAE. But until then, be part of the campaign and support Ahmed Mansoor, a brave human rights defender, who always spoke out for prisoner of conscience. Now he needs us to speak out for him.

V. Addendum (8 May 2019)

There are two new developments which I want to mention:

1. Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported a few days ago that they heard from one source that Ahmed Mansoor has ended his hunger strike. They emphasise that his situation has not improved:

“The GCHR confirms that his circumstances have not improved and he continues to sleep on the floor of the cell, which has only a small window.”

They also say that it is generally very difficult to get any reliable information about prisoners in the United Arab Emirates, because it is a country totally closed to the Civic Space.

2. There is also one positive development: The United Nations published yesterday a statement in which they condemned his imprisonment and also the specific conditions of his imprisonment. The experts said that prolonged periods of solitary confinement amount to torture. They also refer again to the unfair trial and demand his immediate release.

Please continue to raise awareness for his situation.

A Poetry Evening in Tweets: Words for the Silenced


Some of you have probably read my blog post about the poetry event “Words for the Silenced” which I published about two weeks ago. My post was an invitation to a poetry human rights event and more importantly shares the stories of four writers: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey). All four are in prison for their words, two of them are punished for their poetry (Ashraf Fayadh and Galal El-Behairy), Ahmed Mansoor is punished for his human rights work and Nedim Türfent for his journalism. All four write poetry.

The event “Words for the Silenced” took place on 4 March at the Poetry Cafe in London and it was very special for me, because campaigning for these writers is important to me and it is wonderful, if many many emails, WhatsApp messages and Twitter Direct Messages finally result in a moving evening, in which poets, writers, artists, journalists and human rights activists show solidarity and bring us closer to the four writers and their work, by sharing their stories, but also by sharing works written for and by these four writers.

I was quite nervous before the event, whether everything would work (including the video clips) and whether we would have an audience. I was delighted that so many people came and it is wonderful that we got a lot of enthusiastic feedback about the event – by participants and by members of the audience.

I want to indulge a little bit and share in this post a series of tweets about the event which include photos and videos. I hope you like them. The tweets are from the account of the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, because the event was a joint event of this Amnesty Group and Exiled Writers Ink . Most of the photos and all of the videos were taken by me. The photo of Albert Pellicer was taken by Ricardo Esteban Pineda, the photo of the audience and the photo of Ramy Essam were taken by Fatima Hagi and the photo of Fleur Brennan and Amir Darwish was taken by a member of Amnesty International UK North Africa Team:

I hope events like this help to bring attention to the plight of so many prisoners of conscience and that more people decide to continue to speak up for them and take action for them.

Bill Law published his presentation about Ahmed Mansoor in the Fair Observer. I hope the article will be read and shared widely.

I want to end with a quote from his article because it is a perfect summary of my sentiments as well:

“We in the West must not be silent in demanding that the UAE government release Ahmed Mansoor. It is already a deep stain on the UK that we have accepted so many gross violations of human rights in Egypt, in the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in return for trade deals and weapons sales. We must demand that Alistair Burt, the Middle East minister, and Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary speak up, and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office condemns the crackdown on dissent in the UAE and other Gulf states.

Ahmed would want me to mention Alya Abdulnoor, a young woman dying of cancer, chained to a hospital bed and refused permission to spend her last days at home. He’d want me to mention Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, a distinguished economist serving 10 years, and the lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, and the many other prisoners of conscience cruelly held in jail in the UAE. He would want me to speak of the Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, and thousands of other political prisoners and protesters held in Bahrain’s Jau Prison; and of Loujain al-Hathloul and dozens of other women activists held in Saudi jails, subjected to appalling abuse.

After 5 years 6 months 18 days: Shawkan released from prison!

Everyone who campaigned for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan over the years, has been waiting for this news for a long time. Today Shawkan was finally released from prison!

1. Shawkan’s arrest

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know Mahmoud Abu Zeid, who is better known under the name “Shawkan”, because this is my fifth post about him. 

Shawkan is a photographer. He is 31 years old and his ordeal started on 14 August 2013. He worked as freelance photographer. On this day he was on an assignment for Demotix. In the morning he went to Rabaa Square to make photos. Supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi had been protesting for weeks and had occupied the place in front of Rabaa al-Adwiya Mosque. They asked for the reinstatement of Mohammed Morsi as president. The police raided this camp on 14 August 2013. 1000 people were killed, thousands were wounded and thousands were arrested. Among those who were arrested was Shawkan who was only doing his job on this day. 

2. Time of trial and judgement

The trial against Shawkan began on 12 December 2015. It was a mass trail against him and 738 other defendants. Shawkan was the only journalist in the trial. Other defendants were participants in the protest, some belong to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. You can read more about the trail and its endless postponements in my post Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” and in my post Ongoing injustice for Shawkan. 

After over 70 hearings the trial ended on 29 May 2018, almost 2 1/2 years after it began. The judgement was handed down by the Cairo Criminal Court on 8 September 2018. Shawkan and 214 other defendants were sentenced to five years in prison. They were all arrested on 14 August 2013 and had all already spent more than five years in prison by the time the verdict was announced.

Have a look at my blog post Freedom for Shawkan at last? for more information about the judgement and the time leading to the judgement..

3. After the judgement

Sadly the judgement did not lead to Shawkan’s immediate release, even so he had already spent more than five years in prison.

According to his lawyer Shawkan and the others sentenced to five years in prison had to spend six additional months in prison as a compensation for the damages occurred during the sit-in at Rabaa Square. The persecution decided to carry out the sentence of “physical coercion” instead of asking for payment of the amount and added six more months in prison to Shawkan’s sentence (and the sentence of other prisoners).

One week ago was the 16 February, but Shawkan was not released. @FreeEgyptPress tweeted around 6 pm:

@mohammedelra3y tweeted on 17 February 2019 at around 10 am that the procedure for Shawkan has started, but can take several days to be completed. @FreeEgyptPress gave an update on 18 February around 6 pm and tweeted that he is at the Khalifa police station and will be transferred to Al Haram police station ahead of his release. On 19 February 2019 @MeKassab tweeted: 

4. Shakwan’s release:

Today, 4 March 2019, after 5 years 6 months and 18 days after Shawkan’s arrest he was finally released.

The account @ShawkanZeid tweeted at 3:50 am the photo we have all been waiting for:

The press reports that Shawkan is not unconditionally released, but will be under a strict supervision for five years and will be required to sleep at the police station.

5. The last #SkyForShawkan photos

We started the campaign #SkyForShawkan in September 2016. Shawkan had said several times that he misses the sky in prison. The campaign was initially an idea of Kate (@Beerinwitsout) who sent a tweet on 6 September in which she said: “@ShawkanZeid misses the sky. I took this photo 4him just in England but so want him to see real blue sky soon!”. You can read more about the start of the campaign in my blog post Sky for Shawkan

Over the last 2 1/2 years activist from all over world tweeted photos of the sky using the hashtag #SkyForShawkan to raise awareness for Shawkan’s situation. We continued to do so during the months after the judgement. Since 25 November 2018 we also used the hashtag #Countdown4Shawkan to count down the days until 16 February 2019.

I want to share a last time photos of this campaign which were tweeted over these last months:

Thank you to everyone who joined the #SkyForShawkan campaign.

Words for the Silenced

I have the great pleasure and the great honour to be co-organiser and co-host for a human rights poetry event “Words for the Silenced” on 4 March 2019, 7 pm at the Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX. With this post, I want to invite everyone to this event. I also want to introduce the imprisoned writers on whom this event will focus. I hope that you will continue to read and share the stories of these writers also after the event. 

“Word for the Silenced” is an event which is organised in partnership of Amnesty International and Exiled Writers Ink. Exiled Writers Ink is an organisation in London which hosts a monthly Exiled Lit Cafe at the Poetry Cafe (first Monday each months). Exiled Writers Ink

brings together writers from repressive regimes and war-torn situations and it equally embraces migrants and exiles. Providing a space for writers to be heard. Exiled Writers Ink develops and promotes the creative literary expression of refugees, migrants and exiles, encourages cross-cultural dialogue and advocates human rights through literature and literary activism.

As mentioned in my last post, they organised last year in February an event which focused on writings about and from those imprisoned in Iran. I was involved in this event and spoke about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari and read a selection of their poems.

I approached Catherine Temma-Davidson from Exiled Writer Ink in summer last year and asked her whether she would be interested in an event about writers who write in Arabic and who are in prison for their writing, in particular Ahmed Mansoor. She was delighted and we started organising.

On Monday we will have an evening which focuses on four writers / activists who are in prison for their writings: Ahmed Mansoor (UAE), Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Galal El-Behairy (Egypt) and Nedim Türfent (Turkey). Finally Amir Darwish, a Syrian writer who lives in London, will read from his new book “From Aleppo Without Love”.

I. Ahmed Mansoor (UAE)

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know Ahmed Mansoor, because I have written four blog posts about him over the last years.

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Ahmed Mansoor is a prominent blogger and human rights activist. He is an engineer and a member of several human rights organisations and he is a poet. He published a collection of poetry in Arabic in 2006. Some of his poems were translated into English.

On 20 March 2017 Ahmed Mansoor was arrested. He spent a long time in solitary confinement and his whereabouts are unclear. The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) tweeted on the 21 December 2018 that they learned that Ahmed Mansoor is still in solitary confinement at Al Wathba prison since his arrest. There are allegations that he was tortured.

On 29 May 2018 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for false information on social media which “insulted the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and “incited hatred and sectarian feelings”. In addition the reports claim that he tried to “damage the relationship of UAE with its neighbours” by publishing false information. The court of appeal decided on 31 December 2018 to uphold the sentence which is now final.

If you want to know more about Ahmed Mansoor you can have a look at one of my previous posts about him, in particular “Arrested, Sentenced, Not Released – Human Rights Defender in the United Arab Emirates ” and “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights“.

Ahmed Mansoor was the reason, why I contacted Catherine in summer and I am excited about the speakers we will have. Manu Luksch will start our event. She is currently working on a documentary on him (titled ‘The Million Dollar Dissident’). She will speak about her project and we will see an excerpt of her film. I am delighted that the journalist Bill Law and the human rights activist Drewery Dyke will speak about their friend Ahmed Mansoor and will read some of his poems. Finally poet and artist Albert Pellicer will read a poem he wrote in support of Ahmed Mansoor.

II. Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia)

Ashraf Fayadh is a Palestinian poet who was born in Saudi Arabia. FullSizeRender

On 6 August 2013 he was arrested following the accusation that he was “promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas among young people”. These accusations were made in the context of his poetry collection “Instructions Within”. He was released the next day, but rearrested on 1 January 2014.

On 17 November 2015, the General Court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy. He appealed the judgement. On 1 February 2016 the court of appeal reversed the decision of the General Court. They overturned the death-sentence and replaced it with eight years in prison, 800 lashes (to be carried out on 16 occasions with 50 lashes each time) and public repentance.

There is no further information about his current situation.

I wrote in 2015 a blog post about Ashraf Fayadh and also shared one of his poems. You can find more about him in these posts.

In our poetry event journalist and translator Jonathan Wright will read some of his English translations of Ashraf’s poems . The Palestinian journalist Samira Kawar will read Ashraf’s poem in the original version in Arabic.

III. Galal El-Behairy (Egypt)

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1. Galal El-Behairy is an Egyptian poet and lyricist. He published two books: Chairs Factory (Masna’a El Karasy) published in 2015 and Colorful Prison (Segn Bel Alwan), 2017. He also wrote the lyrics of many songs by the singer Ramy Essam, among them is their biggest hits Segn Bel Alwan, a song in support of Women Human Rights Defenders. Ramy Essam is an Egyptian rock singer who performed on Tahrir Square during the popular uprising of 2011. Ramy had been arrested and tortured in 2011 and his song Irhal (Leave) was selected by Time Out 2011 as the third most world changing song ever. There is a fascinating interview with him from 2011 with CBS News on YouTube.

2. On 26 February 2018 Ramy Essam released a new song and music video Balaha. The release was one month prior to Egypt’s presidential elections. Galal El-Behairy wrote the lyrics for this song. Balaha means the fruit from a date palm tree and it is a well-known nickname for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in reference to a character in an Egyptian film who is a compulsive liar. The song criticises President al-Sisi in particular for the current state of economy and the poor political rights in the four years since he took office. The music video of Balaha went viral and has more than 4.7 million views so far. Shortly after the release of the video the Egyptian minister for culture Enas Abdel Dayem stated on television that he will bring a case against Galal and Ramy.

3. On 3 March 2018 Galal El-Behairy was arrested. For one week his family and friends did not know his whereabouts. On 10 March he appeared before the High State Security Court. He showed signs of beatings and severe torture.

The charges against Galal are numerous and include being “member of a terrorist group, spreading false news, the abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military“. There is also an arrest warrant against Ramy Essam in the context of the song Balaha, but Ramy lives in exile.

Galal El-Behairy’s lawyer says that he faces prosecution in two parallel proceedings: One is in front of the Military Court. It relates to “The Finest Women on Earth”, an unpublished collection of poetry. The public prosecutor claims that the title refers to the Egyptian troops and ridicules them and for the lyrics for Balaha. There are parallel proceedings in front of civilian courts.

4. Ramy Essam reacted to the arrest and Galal’s situation with a statement on 5 April 2018:

It is a song

We have been dreaming of a better Egypt for seven years. Even in the darkest of times, we haven’t lost hope. We have expressed ourselves peacefully through art, using music as a tool against violence, oppression and corruption.

With this song we wanted to remind everyone of the freedom we once had, granted by the revolution. We wanted to remind everyone of the right to speak, the right to criticize, and the right to dream of change.

We wanted to start a dialogue about where Egypt is now and where it could be. Our art is not created to make people fight. It is music, it is how we feel. It is a song.

However, Egypt does not seem to be interested in dialogue with its critics.

5. The first hearing at the Military Court in the procedure against Galal took place on 6 May. The judgement was initially announced for 9 May, but then postponed several times, first to 16 May, then 27 June and then 28 July. On 31 July 2018 the court finally handed down its verdict. Galal El-Behairy was sentenced to 3 years in prison and a fine for his poetry. The other case at the civilian court is still under investigation by the High State Security.

Galal was recently moved from Tora Prison (Cairo) to to Wadi el-Natrum prison (Alexandria).

On 25 January 2019 Galal El-Behairy, Islam Khalil, Shady Elghazaly, Abdelfatah Elbana and Ahmed AbuAlam started a hunger strike to draw attention to their situation. They are still on hunger strike.

6. Many organisations have called for Galal’s immediate and unconditional release. On 26 July 2018 UN human rights experts urged the Egyptian authorities to release him, because they see his prosecution as a “criminalisation of the legitimate exercise of artistic expression through the imposition of a range of dubious charges.” Among the human rights organisations calling for his release are Free MuseArtist at Risk, PEN International and a number of Pen centres including English PEN.

There is an online petition by Artists at Risk and several organisations ask supporters to take action for him and write to the Egyptian authorities on his behalf.

7. In our poetry event we hope to have a video message by Ramy Essam. Fleur Brennan, a member of the Amnesty Group Westminster Bayswater, will read the English translation of two poems which Galal wrote in prison. Amir Darwish, a Syrian writer, who will read from his latest book later in the event, will also read Galal’s poems in the original Arabic version. We also might show an excerpt of the video clip Bahala and of the video clip of Segn Bel Alwan.

IV. Nedim Türfent (Turkey)

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1. Nedim Türfent is a journalist. He worked for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency. He reported mainly from the borders to Syria, because he had the feeling he had to give a voice to the people in the cities, town and villages there; those people “who would normally not be heard”.

2. On 12 May 2016 Nedim was arrested in the Eastern province of Van. Shortly before his arrest he had reported about a military action and clashes between Kurdish Civil Protection Units (YPG) and the Turkish army. One of his reports received country-wide media attention. In this report he highlighted the the ill-treatment of a group of detainees by a commander of the Turkish special forces.

In prison Nedim Türfent was subject to inhuman treatment and torture. He spend almost two years in solitary confinement in a small cell. The authorities say that he was held in solitary confinement, because he was a journalist. They fear he would write “news articles about someone every single day“.  He also had no access to books and newspapers and the police threatened and harassed him.

3. Nedim Türfent was formally charged 10 months after his arrest. The allegations against him were that he is a member of the forbidden Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) and therefore supports a terrorist organisation. The prosecutor in particular criticised that he had interviewed members of YPG which Turkey also considers to be a terrorist organisations. By reporting about YPG they claimed he was “spreading terrorist propaganda”. The prosecutor said that his reports and the information he shared on his Twitter account were incorrect and distorted.

Nedim Türfent denied being a PKK member and said that it belongs to his job as a journalist to interview a wide range of different people. PEN International says that he is detained only for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. They think the real reason for his arrest and harsh treatment is that he uncovered human rights violations.

4. The trial against Nedim Türfent started on 14 June 2017. There were altogether six hearings in the trial. The hearings were held in Hakkari, 200 kilometres from Van where he was detained at this time. He was denied the right to appear in the court in person and had to participate via a video link. There were several technical problems. The system did not work on many occasions. There was occasionally no tone at the video link. Nedim gave his witness statement in Kurdish, but the translator did not always translate his statements properly. He could therefore not effectively follow the trial and defend himself.

The prosecutor based the charges on four secret witnesses and 22 open witnesses. Two of the secret witness and two of the open witnesses could not be contacted. 19 of 20 witnesses who was meant to give their statement at court recanted their witness statement. They said that they had made their statements under pressure, were asked to sign statements they were not allowed to read, experienced threats against themselves or family members. Some also said they were beaten and tortured to press them into making a witness statement against Nedim Türfent.

5. On 15 December 2017 the Court in Hakkari found Nedim Türfent guilty of “being a member of a terrorist organisation” and sentenced him to eight years nine months in prison. The court took no notice of the revocation of the witness statements, but only referred to the witness statements made to the public prosecutor. The court was also not interested in Nedim’s own statements, but rather based their decision on the articles he had written.

On 19 June 2018 Erzurum Regional Court rejected the appeal. His lawyers lodged an appeal to the Turkish Constitutional Court on 3 September 2018

6. Nedim Türfent started writing poetry in prison. He said:

I try to make use of my time in prison, and I try to make this period as colourful and alive to the extent that is possible. To do this, I put words together here and there’.

7. PEN International, including several sections in different countries, support Nedim Türfent. PEN International together with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) published an open letter in support of Nedim Türfent. In this letter more than 650 writers, journalists, publishers, artists and activists call for his immediate and unconditional release. The letter is still open for signatures. If you want to add your signature, please sign the petition here. You can also send messages of solidarity in English, German, Turkish or Kurdish, to the following address: Nedim Türfent, Van Yüksek Güvenlikli, Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu, Koğuş A53, Van, Turkey or write the Turkish authorities directly and ask for his release.

8. On Monday we will have Ege Dündar as a speaker about Nedim Türfent. Ege is a writer. He presented music shows in Turkey and worked as Sunday columnist in Milliyet Daily newspaper. Ege is the son of the Turkish journalist Cem Dündar who was prosecuted himself by the Turkish authorities and who lives now in Germany. Ege’s family is currently campaigning for his mother’s right to travel. Ege will read Nedim’s poems in Turkish. He also translated some of the poems into English. The writer James Miller will read a poem he wrote in support of Nedim Türfent.

 

I want to finish this post with a quote by Nedim Türfent about the role of the journalist. He wrote:

When storm clouds fall over the country, the first lightning strikes are always on journalists, on those who are trying to uncover the truth. Whenever a beam of light is cast upon the truth, there is always a price to be paid. I have to consider this price, this pound of flesh that is demanded for my work as a journalist.

I think this does not only apply to journalists, but also to poets and human rights activists and to everyone who decides to speak out against injustice, criticises authorities and shed a light on human rights violations. Our poetry evening will try to give a voice to those who were silenced and I hope many will come and join us on Monday. Also if you cannot come to the evening, there are many ways to show your support and I mentioned in this post and in previous posts actions you can take. Please help to share the stories of these writers and share their words and make sure that they are not silenced.

2018 in Review: Saudi Women Rights Defenders, J.S. Bach and Ahmed Mansoor

It is again the time of the year when people look back to the past year and think about the year to come. I began writing this blog in June 2015 and I started each year of my blog writing with a review of the previous year and some ideas for the new year. I want to continue this tradition and will share with you updates and also some statistics about my blog posts in 2018 and some ideas for 2019.

1. A blog post like this has to start with saying thank you to everyone who read my blog posts, who shared my blog posts and even more important who took action for the prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders during 2018. I want to thank in particular those who joined the Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor on 20 March 2018 to mark the anniversary of his arrest and those who continue to tweet photos for the #SkyForShawkan campaign.

It is wonderful, if blog posts translate into actions in real life and this happened last year. I wrote in November 2017 two blog posts about “Poetry behind bars” – poems written by five women who were prisoners in Evin Prison, Iran. I shared in one blog post poems written by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari and in the second blog post I told the stories of these five women. A short time after I published my two blog posts Catherine Temma Davidson got in contact with me about these posts. A few months later, in February 2018, she organised an evening at the Poetry Café, London, for Exiled Writers Ink with the title “Words for the Silenced” which focused on writings from and about those imprisoned in Iran. One part of the evening was a reading of poems which I had included in my blog post (and some newer ones) and the stories of the women who wrote the poetry. It is great that a larger audience heard the poems and the stories of these women. There is hopefully more to come in 2019. We are discussing at the moment another event in March 2019 which will focus on Arabic poems written by poets who are currently in prison in different Arab countries.

2. I wrote in 2018 ten blog posts. As usual most of these posts (six blog posts) are about human rights topics. Two of the blog posts are about a prisoner of conscience in the United Arab Emirates (Ahmed Mansoor), two about a prisoner in Bahrain (Hassan Mushaima), one about prisoners in Saudi Arabia and one about a prisoner in Egypt (Shawkan).  There were sadly no blog posts last year about poetry and – actually quite surprisingly – no blog posts about human rights in Iran. I am sure both will be back in 2019.

Three blog posts from 2018 are about classical music and one of my posts is in the “General” category.

a) My most popular blog post in 2018 was my article about Saudi women rights defenders: “Where are the Saudi reforms? Saudi women rights defenders Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef in prison“. Saudi Arabia saw in 2018 a crackdown for human rights defenders and there was obviously the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi. Many human rights activists were arrested in 2018, in particular in May 2018. I wrote in my blog post about five of these human rights defenders:

Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah (both arrested on 30 July 2018) and Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul (all three arrested in May 2018). You can see all of them in the picture on the left (from top left to bottom right). 

I am delighted that my blog post was shared and retweeted widely. It received 512 views last year which is quite a lot for my blog.

There are sadly worrying news from Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International has information that detainees in Saudi Arabia’s Dhahban Prison faced sexual harassment, torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogation. These prisoners include the five women about whom I wrote my blog post. The prison has warned the detainees not to disclose anything to their family members or the public. Torture is not unusual in Saudi Arabia.

“Many detainees have reported during trials that torture was used to extract “confessions” from them, to punish them for refusing to “repent” or to force them to promise not to criticize the government. Such “confessions” have furthermore routinely formed the basis for harsh sentences, including the death penalty, without the judiciary taking any steps to duly investigate these claims”

Amnesty International, 20 November 2018

As far as I know Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul have not yet been charged. Amnesty reports that they have no legal representation and where held incommunicado and in solitary confinements for the first months after their arrest.

Amnesty had a special page to mark 100 days after the arrest of Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul. You can find on this page postal addresses as well as email addresses and Twitter handles of Saudi authorities. Please take action for these women.

b) The blog post which got the second most views is suprisingly from June 2016.

On 25 June 2016 one of my choirs Highgate Choral Society sung Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”. I wrote a blog post about the piece: Bach: Mass in B Minor – a “Great Catholic Mass”?. This blog post did quite well when I published in 2016 with 140 views (which made it my fifths most popular one in 2016). Last year it did even better and got 314 views.

Generally my blog posts about classical music and different choral works get frequent views over a longer period of time. Most people find the posts via Google and other search engines. I am very pleased by that and there will be more blog posts about choral works in 2019.

c) Everyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I campaign quite a lot for Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates. I wrote two blog posts about him in 2017 and two blog posts in 2018. My two blog posts from 2018 were my third and forth most popular posts in that year. My post “One year of solitary confinement – Join the Twitter Day for Ahmed Mansoor” from March 2018 had 195 views and my post “Ahmed Mansoor – 10 years in prison for defending human rights” from May 2018 had 205 views.

As explained in my post from May 2018 Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his human rights activism. There is sadly also no good news about Ahmed Mansoor.

It is generally really difficult to hear any news about him. Amnesty International published on 21 December 2018 an urgent action about him and mentions in this action that there is a court hearing in front of the court of appeal on 24 December 2018. The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) tweeted on the 21 December that they learned that Ahmed Mansoor is still in solitary confinement at Al Wathba prison since his arrest. They said that there was a court hearing on the appeal of his judgement on 17 December 2018 and that there was one scheduled for 24 December 2018. A few days ago on 26 December they tweeted that he did not attend the court hearing on 24 December and that the hearing was postponed to the 31 December 2018. The court of appeal decided on 31 December to uphold the 10 year jail sentence against Ahmed Mansoor.

Bill Law wrote an article which is well worth reading: “Two court cases the UAE and Bahrain are hoping the West forgets”. I also want to repeat what I said before: Please tweet about Ahmed Mansoor and please take action via the urgent action and urge the authorities to release him. Please make sure that he is not forgotten.

d) There are a couple of other cases on which I would like to give you an update – luckily there is also at least some good news among all the bad news.

(1) Sadly no good news for the Egyptian photographer Shawkan. I wrote a blog post about him on the 1 October 2018 in which I reported about the judgement against him (five years in prison). I also mentioned that he had already spent more than five years in prison and everyone hoped for his immediate release. Sadly Shawkan is still in prison in Egypt. According to his lawyer he will spend six additional months in prison and is due to be released on 16 February 2019. The lawyer said that the court decided that all defendants in the Rabaa trial have to pay a fine for the damages occurred during the sit-in. The persecution decided to carry out the sentence of “physical coercion” instead of asking for payment of the amount and added six more months in prison to Shawkan’s sentence (and the sentence of other defendants). I hope that February will finally bring freedom for Shawkan.

(2) Ali Mushaima stopped his protest outside the Bahraini Embassy in London on 2 October. I wrote in 2018 two blog posts about him and his hunger strike to raise awareness for his father Hassan Mushaima and emphasise very basic demands for him. Ali received the support of 15 MPs who said that would follow his father’s case and try to help. This is all positive, but Ali also tweeted on 5 December that his father is still waiting for the results of his cancer scans which were made in August and that he did no receive his medication the other week. I hope 2019 will bring more positive news for Ali and his family.

(3) There was good news from Iran in 2019: I already mentioned at the beginning of this article my post about poetry and poems written in Evin prison. One of the women about whom I wrote is Nasim Bagheri. She was released on 29 March 2018 after having completed her four year prison sentence.

I wrote in December 2016 a blog post about three lawyers who were punished for being human rights lawyer. One of these lawyers was Abdolfattah Soltani from Iran. He had been arrested in 2011 and in 2012 sentenced to ten years in prison. On 20 November 2018 he has been conditionally released after more than seven years in prison.

3. I do not want to bore you with statistics, but I am always curious and intrigued to see how many people visit my blog during a year and from how many different countries they come. In 2018 4131 people visited my blog and my blog posts got 6211 views. That is more than in previous years which wonderful and also a little bit surprising given that I wrote in 2018 fewer blog posts than in 2017. The visitors came from 97 countries. The most views came from the United States with 1953 views, followed by the United Kingdom with 1198 views and Germany with 515 views.

4. I am a little bit reluctant to share my ideas for posts in 2019. Mainly because I often do not find the time to write posts about all my ideas and if I mention something in my January post it almost feels a bit like an obligation or promise to write a post. Nevertheless, here are my ideas for 2019:

a) I already mentioned that I did not write any posts about prisoners in Iran. That is certainly something I want to do again in 2019. There are a number of prisoners and human rights activist about whom I would like to write a blog post. Among them is certainly Atena Daemi, a human rights activist who spoke out against the death penalty and who featured in 2018 Write for Rights campaign. Others are Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, or also Kamran Ghaderi, an Iranian-Austrian dual national. We will see.

b)  I would also like to write one or two blog posts about poetry. I mentioned that I am currently planning an event together with Exiled Writers Ink for March 2019. There should be a chance to write about the event or the poems and poets who will feature in the event.

c) When I tweeted about my blog post about the Saudi women rights defenders, many mentioned that Hatoon al-Fassi, another well known Saudi women rights defender, was also arrested in summer last year and that I should have included her in my post as well. I would like to write about her in 2019.

d) Finally I will certainly also write again about classical music. Highgate Choral Society’s programme for 2019 includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, Vivaldi’s Gloria and music by Zelenka. Therefore the programme notes of some of the works will certainly find their way into my blog.

5. I want to close this blog post with wishing everyone all the best for 2019. The United Arab Emirates declared on 15 December 2018 that 2019 will be a “Year of Tolerance”. I fear that this is mainly a publicy stunt and the decision of the court of appeal against Ahmed Mansoor is the opposite of tolerance. Nevertheless, it would be wonderful, if 2019 would really be a year of tolerance, freedom for prisoners of conscience and peace.


Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

HCS NovemberThe central work of the first concert of Highgate Choral Society in the concert season 2018-2019 is Beethoven’s monumental choral work “Missa Solemnis”. Highgate Choral Society will be joined by four excellent soloists and the New London Orchestra. The conductor is Ronald Corp. 

The concert takes place on Saturday 3 November 2018 at All Hallows Gospel Oak, London NW3 2JP. It starts at 7 pm. Given that the concert is just a week before the centenary of the Armistice choir and orchestra will start the concert with a performance of Ina Boyle’s work “Soldiers at Peace” which was written in 1916. 

The following blog post is about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. 

1. If you were asked to name Ludwig van Beethoven’s greatest work, you are spoiled for choice. You might consider one of his symphonies to be his greatest work, maybe his third , his fifth or his ninth symphony. One of his piano concertos (maybe No. 5), one of the late string quartets or one of his many piano sonatas might be another contender for his greatest work. Some of you might even want to choose his only opera “Fidelio” with its clear message of freedom and justice, a true work of the period of enlightenment.

I am wondering how many of you would name his Missa Solemnis, a sacred choral work. Beethoven is neither known for his choral works nor was a he a prolific composer of sacred music. His main output for choir before the Missa Solemnis were three choral works which he wrote in the decade after 1800: In 1803 he composed his only oratorio “Christ on the Mount of Olives”, Op. 85 – a rather obscure work which is not performed very often. In 1807 he made his first setting of the mass in his “Mass in C major”, Op. 86. It was a commission from Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II and it was not well received. Prince Nikolaus asked Beethoven after the first performance “But, my dear Beethoven, what is that you have done?”. The following year (1808) he wrote his Choral Fantasy, Op. 80 which is an unusual hybrid somewhere between a choral work and a piano concerto. Nevertheless, Beethoven said several times that he considers his Missa Solemnis to be his “greatest and most accomplished work” (“größtes und gelungenstes Werk”).

2. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in D Major (Missa Solemnis), Op. 123, is a setting of the ordinary mass for four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), mixed chorus and orchestra. It is a substantial work and lasts almost 90 minutes.

Beethoven became interested in writing sacred music and in particular mass settings in 1818. He wrote in one of his conversation books:

“Um wahre Kirchenmusik zu schreiben – alle Kirchenchoräle der Mönche durchgehen – auch zu suchen, wie die Absätze in richtigsten Übersetzungen nebst vollkommener Prosodie aller christkatholischen Psalmen und Gesänge überhaupt.

“In order to write true church music, look through all the church chorales of the monks, etc., to find out the most accurate translations of all the sections, also the perfect prosody of all the Christian and Catholic psalms and canticles generally.”

This quote also describes his approach for composing the Missa Solemnis which he started shortly after that. He got a German translation of the text of the mass and was interested in understanding every nuance of the text and translating it into music. Beethoven extensively studied earlier church music, in particular Gregorian chant, Palestrina and Bach. He also admired and was influenced by Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem. 

The historical reason for writing his Missa Solemnis are closely connected with Archduke Rudolf, the brother of the Emperor of Austria, Francis I of Austria. Archduke Rudolf was one of Beethoven’s few pupils. In 1803 / 1804 he studied the piano with Beethoven and Beethoven gave him lessons in composition. From 1809 he also become Beethoven’s most important patron and paid him a regular pension. Beethoven was very grateful and dedicated many works to the Archduke. In 1818 rumours began that Archduke Rudolf would receive the highest honours of the Austrian church. In 1819 these rumours were substantiated.  On  24 March 1819 Archduke Rudolf was elected as cardinal and six weeks later on 4 June 1819 he was further elated to Archbishop of Olmütz (Moravia). 9 March 1820 was set as date for his installation as Archbishop.

Beethoven promised Rudolf to write a mass for the occasion of his installation. He was very enthusiastic about this chance and wrote in a letter to the Archduke that this will be “the happiest day of my life”. However, Beethoven was not able to finish the composition in time. He started the firsts sketches of the first movement (Kyrie) in 1819. Towards the end of 1819 he worked on the Gloria, the second movement of the mass. In the first three months of 1820 he made sketches for the third movement (Credo). He completed Credo and the two final movements (Sanctus and Agnus Dei) before August 1822 and then spent considerable time on the orchestration. On 7 January 1823 Beethoven informed the Archduke about the completion of the work and on 19 March 1823. three years after the installation date, he handed over a beautifully copy of the work to Archduke Rudolf.

There are many reasons why Beethoven worked so long on this composition. Initially he concentrated on composing the mass setting.  However, once it was clear he would not make the deadline he worked on other projects in parallel, including the Diabelli variations and his Ninth Symphony. Between 1818 and 1823 there were also long periods of illness. His hearing was completely gone by that time and he regularly used conversation books from 1818 onwards. There were additional strains in his life, because of a legal battle about custody of his nephew Karl, son of his late brother Karl. Beethoven also struggled because of a lack of money and desperately offered his Missa Solemnis to several publishing houses (from 1820 onwards) and tried to get subscriptions from several Royal courts.

The first performance of Missa Solemnis took place on 7 April 1824 in St. Petersburg sponsored by Prince Nikolaus Galitzin, an ardent admirer of Beethoven. Beethoven was not present at this performance. Three movements (Kyrie, Credo and Agnus Dei) were also performed in a theatre in Vienna (Kärtnertortheater) in May 1824 under the title “Three Grand Hymns for Solo and Chorus”. The church authorities only allowed this performance of parts of the mass in a theatre when Beethoven changed the Latin text into a German text and also choose a different title. At the same concert Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and his Ninth Symphony were premiered. That was the only performance of Missa Solemnis which Beethoven witnessed. He was at that time deaf and could not hear it anymore.

3. Beethoven sets in his Missa Solemnis the Latin text of the mass with its five traditional parts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus / Benedictus and Agnus Dei). However, Beethoven takes some licence with the text and made small alterations of the text for musical purposes. He uses the soloists as a kind of second “solistic” choir or chamber choir. He does not give specific movements or parts of movements to solo voices, as had previous composer like Bach in his Mass in B Minor or Mozart in his Mass in C Minor.

a) The first movement Kyrie consists traditionally of three parts (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison). It is the plea to God for mercy. Beethoven asks the performers to sing and play “with devotion” (Mit Andacht). It is the shortest and also probably the most traditional movement of the Missa Solemnis. The work starts with an orchestral introduction. The first Kyrie-section is dominated by the chorus which sings “Kyrie eleison” three times (the first time with responses by the soloists). In the Christe-section the soloists who sing as quartet play a greater role. For the second Kyrie-section Beethoven goes back to structure and musical material of the first Kyrie-section in a modified form.

b) Gloria is a celebratory part of mass which praises, lauds and glorifies God. It starts in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with a opening flourish which is repeated severally times through the movement like a motto. There are great contrasts in tempi, volume, textures and character of the music throughout the movement. The reason for these are the word painting which Beethoven uses and his desire to reflect every detail and nuance of the text in the music. In solemn parts of the music for example the setting of  “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” (And on earth peace to men of good will) or of the word “adoramus te” (we worship thee) the music is generally low and quiet. For the celebratory parts the music is higher, louder and often more complex in its musical structure. The movement ends with two extended fugues to the text “in gloria Dei patris. Amen” (in the glory of God the Father. Amen.) and a last reprise of the Gloria opening flourish.

c) The third movement Credo sets the creed (Nicene Creed) to music, the summary of the Christian belief. It is similar in scale as the Gloria. Also in this movement Beethoven uses word painting and sets and orchestrates the words in a nuanced and detailed way which associates a particular phrase or musical idea with a specific image and specific words.

Beethoven as many other composers puts great emphasis on the three middle sections of the movement: incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In particular in the part about the incarnation and the crucifixion the soloists dominate the texture. At the “incarnatus” part, Beethoven uses a solo flute which represents the Holy Ghost and floats high above the musical structure . For the crucifixion the music gets dark and sombre and sforzandos and syncopated rhythms are associated with the images of suffering. For the words “et sepultus est” (and is buried) the music gets lower and lower and almost stops. The resurrection section is again dominated by the chorus and includes ascending scales.

As the Gloria movement also this movement has a specific musical theme, here for the word “Credo” (I believe),  which reoccurs again and again throughout the movement and gives the movement unity. Beethoven even decided to repeat “Credo” several times when the original text does not include a repetition. Also towards the end of this movement is a complex double fugue to the text “Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen” (and the life of the world to come. Amen.) – many say that this fugue setting is one of the most difficult passages of the whole choral repertoire.

d) The Sanctus consists traditionally of four parts: SanctusOsannaBenedictus and a repetition of the Osanna. The Sanctus is sung in the mass after the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is the praise of God by the saints and angels.

In this mass setting this section starts with the soloist quartet to the text “Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth” (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts). The setting is soft and reverent. Also for this movement Beethoven asks the performers to play and sing “with devotion” (Mit Andacht). The next two sections “Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua” (Heaven and earth are full of His glory) and “Osanna in excelsis” (Hosanna in the highest) are short fugues for the chorus which are joyful and dancing. After the Osanna there is an orchestral prelude. This continues seamlessly into the Benedictus-section. In this section a solo violin enters which represents the Holy Ghost. It is written in the style of a violin concerto and was therefore also criticised at Beethoven’s time as unsuitable for a mass setting. Traditionally the Osanna-section after the Benedictus is often a repeat of the first Osanna. Beethoven decides to compose a second different Osanna-section.

e) The Agnus Dei consists, as the Kyrie, traditionally of three sections. The text “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is repeated three times. The first two times the sentence finishes with the plea “have mercy on us”. The third time it ends with “give us peace” (Dona nobis pacem).

The movement begins in a funeral mood with the bass soloist who is soon joined by the men of the choir. During the repetitions of the Agnus Dei the pleas for mercy move up in the voice parts and become more intense. The last line of the text “Dona nobis pacem” is set separately by Beethoven. This phrase gets extensive musical treatment, including fugue structures. Beethoven wrote on the manuscript “Bitte um inneren und äusseren Frieden” (Prayer for inner and outer peace). There are clear allusions to war, because a military style march with distant drums and trumpets disturbs and interrupts the plea for peace. The voices get more anxious and the pleas get more desperate and urgent. The work ends with a final statement of choir “Dona nobis pacem” which is sung loud (forte). The outer signs of war seem to be gone, unclear is whether also inner peace is achieved.

4. Every setting of a sacred texts implicitly asks the question about the relationship of the composer with religion. Beethoven’s personal beliefs are unclear. He was raised a Catholic and spent as a boy much time in the organ loft, where he took lessons. Haydn called him once an atheist. This statement is almost certainly wrong. Some say that a work like the Missa Solemnis could only be written by a profoundly religious man. It seems that he did not have much time for organised religion and was probably not a regular church goer, but he was certainly interested in a more personal belief system. There are many prayers in his diaries and conversation books which always begin with “Dear father”.

His interest in religious sentiments becomes also clear, if one reads about Beethoven’s main aim with this mass setting. He wrote about it in a letter on 16 September 1824 to his friend Andreas Streicher:

“Hauptabsicht war, sowohl bei den Singenden als bei den Zuhörenden religiöse Gefühle zu erwecken und dauernd zu machen.”

“My chief aim was to awaken and permanently instill religious feelings in the singers as well as in the listeners.”

Ultimately we do not know what Beethoven believed and I think the answer to this question is maybe also not that important. Missa Solemnis is without doubt a spiritual work which will hopefully not leave the listeners unmoved. When Beethoven sent the copy to Archduke Rudolf he included a special motto:

“Von Herzen möge es wieder zu Herzen gehen”.

“From the heart – may it go again – to the heart”.

I do not know whether the performance will be a spiritual experience for singers and audience members, but I hope that in any case this motto will be the motto of our performance of this extraordinary work.

Freedom for Shawkan at last?

If you are a regular reader of my blog  you know the Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abu Said who is also called “Shawkan”. I have written three blog posts about him over the past years. The first one in August 2016 “Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan”. The second blog post in September 2016 about a new campaign “Sky for Shawkan” and the last one in December 2017 to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the trial against Shawkan “Ongoing Injustice for Shawkan“.

He is currently still in prison, but there are some new developments and I hope that this will be my last blog post about Shawkan. 

1. When will freedom come for Shawkan?

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Picture of Shawkan by Assem Trivedi

a) Shawkan is an Egyptian photographer. He was arrested more than five years ago on 14 August 2013 at Rabaa Square, Egypt. He was on this day on an assignment as photographer for Demotix and was arrested while he was making photos of the protest.

You can read more about the protest and his story in my previous blog posts, in particular my first one from August 2016. 

b) It took more than two years from his arrest until the begin of the trial against Shawkan. 12 December 2015 was the first trial date against him and 738 other defendants. Shawkan was the only journalist in the trial. Other defendants were participants in the protest, some belong to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The trial went over 70 hearings and ended on 29 May 2018, almost 2 1/2 years after it began. Shawkan had been charged with 24 offences, including murder, “illegal gathering” and other violence related charges. In the hearing on 3 March 2018 the public prosecutor asked for the death penalty for  all defendants, including Shawkan.

Even after the last trial date the waiting and the uncertainty continued. Originally the judgement against all defendants was announced for 30 June. The court delayed the ruling and said that all defendants could not be transferred to the court due to “security concerns”. 28 July was set as a new date for the judgement. Shawkan still feared that he might be sentenced to death. Mona Eltahawy, a prominent Egyptian human rights activist, tweeted two days before the judgement date:

On 28 July the court sentenced 75 defendants to death. According to BBC the Grand Mufti in Egypt must be consulted whenever the death sentence is applied. Luckily Shawkan was not among these 75 defendants, but he had to wait for more than one further month to hear the verdict against him.

c)  On 8 September 2018 the Cairo Criminal Court handed down the complete judgement:

  • 75 defendants were sentenced to death (as already announced in July 2018)
  • 47 defendants were sentenced to life in prison
  • five defendants had died during the legal proceedings.
  • 374 defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison
  • 23 defendants were sentenced to 10 years in prison
  • 215 defendants were sentenced to five years in prison.

Shawkan belongs to those who were sentenced to five years in prison. Shawkan and the other 214 defendants who were sentenced to five years in prison were all arrested on 14 August 2013 and have all already spent more than five years in prison.

All sentences can be challenged by appeal.

d) Today, more than three weeks after the judgement Shawkan is still in prison. Shawkan’s lawyer Karim Abdelrady tweeted on 8 September that Shawkan might not be unconditionally released but might stay under “police observation” for five years, meaning he will have to appear at a police station every day at sunset and probably also spent the night at the police station. About a week ago his lawyer tweeted that the “verdict had not reached” the prison yet and that Shawkan is therefore still not released.

The judgement as such is a travesty of justice. Shawkan did not commit any crime. He only did his job and took photos at a protest. But that this judgement has not even been implemented against Shawkan and that he is still behind bars is outrageous.

2. Please continue to campaign for Shawkan

As in my previous posts, I also would like to ask you in this one to continue to campaign for Shawkan. He has already spent more than five years in prison. He should not have spent one single day there, but in any case he should now be released immediately and unconditionally.

Please continue to write to the Egyptian authorities and tweet about him using the hashtag #FreeShawkan.

We started more than two years ago the social media campaign #SkyForShawkan and asked supporters to share on Twitter photos of the sky using the hashtag #SkyForShawkan. We did this, because Shawkan said in a letter that he misses the sky in prison and we wanted to raise awareness about his situation. Please also continue to support this campaign until he is free and can see the sky himself.

3. New #SkyForShawkan photos

I want to end this post with a selection of new #SkyForShakwan photos. Again I am grateful to everyone who allowed me to use their photos. They were taken all over world. Many of them were taken in different parts of Europe, but there are also photos which were taken in Africa (Uganda), in India and Iran, in USA and Canada and in South America (Chile). I hope you like the photos:

New developments in Ali Mushaima’s hunger strike

About three weeks ago I wrote  a blog post about Ali Mushaima and his hunger strike to achieve basic rights for his father Hassan Mushaima, a prisoner of conscience in Bahrain. If you want to know more about Ali’s father and Ali’s reasons for his hunger strike, then please read my previous blog post.

I would like to give you an update on his situation in the following post. 

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a) A few days after my first visit, on 30 August Ali Mushaima was rushed to the hospital, because of  low sugar level, low body temperature and low blood pressure. It was the 30th day of his hunger strike. He was brought to St Thomas hospital Westminster. Ali was released after a few hours. The doctors urged him to break his hunger strike. Ali decided to spent one night at home to get a proper rest, but was back at Bahraini Embassy on the following day. He did not break his hunger strike.

b) On 4 September Ali got some significant support in his hunger strike. The prominent human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja joined him and went on hunger strike herself in solidarity with Ali.

Zainab is a daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja another member of the Bahrain 13 who had been tried in this same trials as Ali’s father and had also been sentenced to life in prison. Zainab had been imprisoned several times herself. The last time she was arrested in March 2016 and was brought to prison together with her then 18 months old son Hadi. She had been sentenced to three years and one month in prison on the basis of several convictions including two charges for tearing up the picture of the Bahraini king. She was released on the 31 May 2016 after considerable international pressure and left Bahrain almost immediately because she was threatened with new arrests. Zainab lives now in Denmark in exile. When she heard about Ali’s hunger strike, she decided to come to London and join him.

c) On 11 September a debate took place at Westminster Hall with the title “Human rights abuses and UK assistance to Bahrain”. It was initiated by Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith. Several MPs specifically mentioned Ali’s father and supported Ali’s cause.. You can find the report which was the basis for the debate here. MPs of almost all parties were worried about the human right situation in Bahrain. The only members of parliament who defended Bahrain were the members of the Conservative Party. BIRD showed in an article about the debated that all three Conservative MPs who were supportive of Bahrain had received considerable donations from the Bahraini government in the past.

d) BIRD released a worrying statement about Ali’s state of health on the following day (12 September). They said that he had lost 16 kg (about 20% of his body weight) and that the doctors were

“alarmed for the “marked deterioration in his health and well-being”, and for the “acute consequences of his protest” which with “no doubt” will have “long standing implications”.

Numerous people asked Ali to stop his hunger strike to make sure that he would not seriously damage his health.

e) On 13 September 2018, after 43 days of hunger strike, Ali Mushaima made a statement at a press conference in front of the Bahraini Embassy. He said:

“After 44 days many friends have argued for me to end my hunger strike. I even received a message from Nabeel Rajab in prison. But what affected me the most was my father telling me how scared he was that there I was hospitalised. I will not end my hunger strike but I will start a liquid diet that will include soups. My body needs to recover but if my father’s basic rights are not met, which is full medical care, family visits and access to books, I’m ready to resume my full hunger strike not because it’s easy and not because it is life-threatening, but because I will never stop fighting for my dad and for our cause.”

Today (on 15 September) after 46 days of hunger strike Ali Mushaima ended his hunger strike.

I am very relieved that he decided to end his hunger strike. I am glad that his father received medication and that there was a cancer screening. Even so Ali told me that they are still waiting for the result of the screening after more than two weeks. The result should be available at the same day as the screening. I agree with him that the case has received considerable media attention and it is great that it received support from several MPs. I hope this attention and support will not die down before all basic rights are restored to his father.

f) I visited Ali yesterday evening at the Bahraini embassy. He is still there and he is still determined to fight for basic rights for his father. Ali said that he will stay at the embassy and will continue to sleep on this street for the time being, even so it is getting autumn and the nights are getting colder.

Let us make sure that his case is not forgotten and please continue to support him. Visit  him at the Bahraini Embassy, 30 Belgrave Square, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 8QB. Please sign and share the petition. Have a look at my previous blog post for more ways to help him.

Please also write to your MP. You can easily do so using the “Write to them” form. Thomas Brake (Liberal Democrats, Carshalton and Wallington) started an Early Day Motion (EDM 1631) two days ago. The motion asks for an end of the degrading treatment of political prisoners in Bahrain, including Ali’s father. Please ask your MP to support this Early Day Motion and generally to speak up for prisoner of conscience in Bahrain.

I hope that many of you will continue to support Ali Mushaima and his father. Hassan Mushaima is a prisoner of conscience and he should be released, but I hope that the Bahraini authorities will at least grant Ali’s father the family visits and the access books. These are basic demands for every prisoner.