Support EBOHR’s campaign to #Free_Parweez Jawad

The European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR) launched last year in March an open end campaign for the release of Mohammed Hassan Jawad (“Parweez Jawad”), Hussain Jawad’s father. Parweez Jawad was arrested on 22 March 2011 and has now spend six years in prison. He is 69 years old and in bad health. You can read more about Parweez Jawad in my previous blog post “Do you know Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience?

Please join the campaign and help Hussain Jawad and EBOHR to free his father Parweez Jawad.

  1. Please take a piece of paper and write on it “Free Parweez Jawad”, preferably in your own language.
  2. Take a photo of yourself in which you hold the sign.
  3. Please tweet the photo to @EBOHumanRights and to @HussainMJawad or send it via e-mail to hussain.jawad@ebohr.org.
  4. Please also tweet it to Ministry of Interior in Bahrain (@moi_bahrain) and Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa (@Khaled_Bin_Ali) and ask for Parweez Jawad’s release.

EBOHR has already received a good number of photos by individuals, but also by Amnesty International groups. If you are in an Amnesty International group, you could suggest them to join the campaign.

As inspiration here are some examples of the photos EBOHR received so far:

EBOHR would love to have 1000 photos. Therefore please send your photo and join the campaign to #Free_Parweez Jawad.

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Do you know Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience?

I wrote previously a number of articles about Bahrain and in particular about the human rights activist Hussain Jawad, Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR). If you do not know him, then read my “Story in Tweets” which tells the story of his arrest in February 2015 until his (conditional) release in May 2015  using the tweets of his wife Asma Darwish. Hussain’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad (“Parweez Jawad”) is also a human rights activist. He was arrested six years ago on 22 March 2011 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Parweez Jawad is Bahrain’s eldest prisoner of conscience. This post will tell his story.  

1. Background

img_3508Mohammed Hassan Jawad, who is usually called “Parweez” Jawad, was born on 1 January 1948 in Manama, Bahrain. He was one of six children. He had two brothers and three sisters (after the death of one brothers and two sisters there are still two of his siblings alive). When he was 12 years old his father died. In the testimony he gave in court in June 2012, he said that the loss of his father at an early age was something which shaped his personality and meant he had a “deep feeling of injustice, and sympathy with the oppressed at an early age“.

In the early seventies Parweez Jawad met his future wife Batool Baqal in Manama. Shortly afterwards in 1973 they got married. Parweez Jawad and Batool Baqal have six children who are now between 39 years old and 6 years old. Their two daughters are Ramla (39 years) and Susan (38 years) and their four sons are Ali (34 years), Hussain (29 years), Hamid (27 years) and Hadi (6 years).

Parweez Jawad used to work at the oil pipeline between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. However for the last 30 years he was banned from this work, because of his human rights activism.

2. Human Rights Activism

Parweez Jawad has a long history of protests against the government and was always outspoken for human rights. He was particularly interested in human rights of prisoners and campaigned as independent activist against arbitrary arrests. Even when he was in prison himself, he taught other prisoners about ethics and human rights and documented the detainees cases.

He was himself arrested many times in the late 1980s and the 1990s. The reasons for these arrests were protesting, demanding the release of political prisoners and also insulting the king. “Insulting the king” is still an offense human rights activists are often charged with. Every criticism of the king or the government can lead to such charges. Until 2014 the sentence for insulting the king could be between 10 days and 3 years. In February 2014 the king of Bahrain approved a law which increased the sentence to up to 7 years and a fine of up to 10,000 Bahrain Dinars (ca. GBP 21,700).

I spoke with Hussain about his father and he told me that most arrests of his father in the 1990s were without charges. These were arrests for security reasons and his father was released after a few days or maybe sometimes a few weeks. However, in 1994 this was different. Hussain was 9 years old and he told me that he still remembers well that his father was disappeared for 9 months. Parweez Jawad could not make any calls, his family was not allowed to see him and he was tortured. Parweez Jawad spoke about this arrest in his testimony in court in 2012. He explained that he was arrested at 2.30 am by police officers who suddenly broke into his house, took valuables like a camera and took him out of the house in handcuffs. He describes in his statement that he was insulted, humiliated and tortured by physical and psychological means.  He was ultimately brought to Jaw Central Prison where he was held for almost a year without charges or trial.

He could not get a job anymore, because his name was blacklisted and every application for work for the government or a private employer was rejected. In 2002 / 2003 he started therefore a workshop in which he made iron furniture. In 2011 security forces destroyed all machines.

3. Bahrain Uprising 2011

In December 2010 Parweez Jawad took part in a demonstration for the release of political prisoners. The night after the protest, armed forces broke into his house and arrested him without an arrest warrant. He was detained for 33 days and was released in January 2011.

A short time after his release the Arab Spring began in Bahrain. After protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East, ten thousands of Bahrainis took the streets on 14 February 2011. They protested for meaningful reforms, in particular constitutional and political reforms as well as for human rights. Also Parweez Jawad joined the protests on this day in Sitra where a large demonstration took place.

Bahrain’s government responded to the demonstrations with tear gas, shotguns and rubber img_1205bullets. The police fired into unarmed crowds which caused panic and let to injuries. On the evening of 14 February 2011 one protester Ali Mushaima died from police shot guns. There were more protests over the following days and more fatalities.  On 17 February 2011 1000 police officers were dispatched to clear the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain’s capital. There were 1500 people staying over night in tents. The police used again excessive force to clear the place, including shotguns, tear gas and flash grenades. Four protesters were killed by the police and 300 man, women and children were injured. The government claimed that the protesters had attacked the police; however independent inquiries did not find any proof for these allegations. The 17 February 2011 is remembered as “Bahrain’s Bloody Thursday”.

The demonstrations and protests continued. Many protesters called for an end of the monarchy in Bahrain and the establishment of a republic. According to Amnesty International the demonstration and marches were peaceful. Many people went on strike. The situation got tenser on 12 and 13 March 2011 when anti-government protesters and government supporters crashed. On 15 March 2011 Saudi Arabia sent troops with at least 1200 soldiers to Bahrain and the King of Bahrain declared a three-months state of emergency which gave the police wide powers to arrest and detain protesters. The Pearl Monument who had been a symbol for the protesters was destroyed on 16 March 2011. Hundreds of people were arrested and detained.

Parweez Jawad participated in a number of marches in February and March 2011. On 22 March 2011 he went to the place of the Pearl Roundabout to get his car back which was parked there. He explained in his witness statement what happened next:

“… I went there to take back my car, my car at that moment was not working and I had to fix it,  but before I get it back, I was stopped at one the army check points, and after they asked me about my name, and then asked for my ID card, and once they say it, then they asked me to get out of the car. // and once I got out of the car, so they started beating severely …”

After his arrest Parweez Jawad was first brought to Naim Police Station. He was beaten and insulted and had to stand for a long time. After a few days he was brought to the “Castle”. This is a place of detention run by the National Security Agency in the basement of a building in Al Qualaa. He was questioned about the marches and demonstrations and was pushed to name other participants. Parweez Jawad explains that he was tortured by the security forces. He was beaten with sticks, whipped and kicked, hung by his feet and hung from his hands. There was sexual harassment and torture with electric shocks. After 15 days in the “Castle” he was transferred to Dry Dock Prison where many political prisoners are detained and later he was brought to Al Qurain prison. The torture continued in these prisons. There is a very detailed account of his time in the “Castle” and the subsequent prisons and what he had to endure in an article in the Bahrain Mirror: “This is how the son of the king tortured us; Parweez narrated the story from inside the prison“.

4. Trial and Judgment

The trial against Parweez Jawad and twenty other Bahraini opposition activists started on 8 May 2011 at the National Safety Lower Court. It is a military court and the case was brought by a military prosecutor. Apart from Parweez Jawad the following 13 defendants appeared in front of the court: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Dr. Abduljalil Al Singace, Hassan Mashaima, Ibrahim Sharif, Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, Sheikh Mirza Al Mahrooz, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Makhdour, Salah Al-Khawaja, Sheikh Saeed Al NooriMohammed Ali Ismael, Sheikh Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh. Seven further defendants were tried in absence. Some of them were in hiding, presumably in Bahrain, while others lived abroad.

The defendants were accused of a number of charges connected with national security crimes under Bahrain’s 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 Counterterrorism Law. The charges included among others “organising and managing a terrorist group for the overthrow and the change of the country’s constitution and the royal rule,” “seeking and correspond[ing] with a terrorist organisation abroad working for a foreign country to conduct heinous acts” against Bahrain, “broadcasting false news and rumours” that threatened public security, inciting sectarianism, and other similar charges.  The defendants denied all charges.

Further hearings took place on 12 May and 16 May 2011. On 22 June 2011 Bahrain’s National Safety Court sentenced Parweez Jawad to 15 years in prison. Seven defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment (Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Dr. Abduljalil Al Singace, Hassan Mashaima, Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, Sheikh Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Sheikh Saeed Al Noori), apart from Parweez Jawad three other people were sentenced to 15 years in prison (Sheikh Mirza Al Mahrooz, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Makhdour and Mohammed Ali Ismael). Ibrahim Sharif and Salah Al-Khawaja were sentenced to five years each and Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.

img_1001Parweez Jawad said that he could not prepare for the hearings. He did not have access to a lawyer before the trial. He also mentioned that he could not hear some of the questions because of an impairment of hearing which got worse because of the torture. He was furthermore forced to sign a report without being able to read it.

Human rights organisations share these concerns for the trial in general. They criticised the trial against civilians in front of a military court. They also said that the charges were vague and politically motivated. The trial was not fair, because lawyers were only granted very limited access to the files. Family members were not informed about trial dates (or informed very late) and were not allowed to visit the defendants. For some of the hearings international human rights organisations like Frontline Defenders and Human Rights First were denied entry to the court. Human rights organisations were alarmed by the allegations of torture and demanded independent investigation of these serious allegations against police and security forces.

The appeal against the verdict was heard on 6 September 2011 by the National Safety Court of Appeal, again a military court. The verdict of the court of appeal was handed down on 28 September 2011. The appeal court upheld all convictions and sentences imposed in the first instance.

On 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation in Manama ordered that the 14 opposition activists shall appear in front of a civilian court. The court reduced the sentence of Al-Hur Yousef al Somaikh to six months and he was released. The sentences against the 13 other activists remained unchanged.

The High Criminal Court of Appeal (another civilian court) started appeal proceedings on 22 May 2012 and went through several hearings until the last hearing on 24 July 2012. The final verdict was issued on 4 September 2012. The court acquitted three of the defendants of some of the charges, but upheld the overall sentences for all 13 defendents, including the sentence against Parweez Jawad.

Amnesty International said that there is no evidence that any of the defendants had committed a crime and used or advocated violence. Amnesty International considers all 13 activists as prisoners of conscience who are in prison for their right to freedom of expression and association.

5. Current Situation

Parweez Jawad is still in prison six years after his arrest in 2011. He is in Jaw Central Prison. Jaw Central Prison is one of Bahrain’s main prisons. It is directly at the sea in the east of Bahrain near Al Dur. Hussain told me that all 13 activists (“Bahrain 13”) are in a separate section of Jaw Central Prison. After the release of Ibrahim Sharif and Salah Al-Khawaja last year eleven prisoners are left. They have no contact with other prisoners, but can talk to each other.

Parweez Jawad is not in good health. During the past years he was brought to hospital several times. In August 2012 he was admitted to hospital because he lost consciousness and vomited blood. Because of his critical condition he was unable to speak. In 2014 he was told that he had been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. He also complained that he was still suffering pain after the torture in 2011. The prison authorities did not provide him with proper medical care. He was again taken to hospital in September 2015, but returned to prison after a few days without receiving specialised treatment.

I asked Hussain how is father is now. He said that he is still not in good health, but also does not want to be transferred to a hospital because they are not doing anything anyway.

Usually Parweez’s family is able to visit him every other week. For holidays like Eid there are regularly special visiting rights. Hussain told me that he speaks with his father on the phone about once a week and his family speaks several times a week with Parweez. However, the prison authorities are always listing in to these calls. The calls are frequently interrupted, depending on the topics about which Parweez Jawad and his family are speaking. The right to receive visits or calls is also occasionally withdrawn. The same applies for the access to books, including the Koran, newspapers or television. Just a few days ago Maryam Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s daughter, tweeted about new regulation to harass the Bahrain 13 prisoners: There is a cancellation of spousal visits, family hours are reduced to 30 minutes, furthermore newspapers are forbidden and shia channels were removed from television, the cell doors remained locked for most of the day, Bahrain 13 prisoner are chained whenever they are moved anywhere, all hospital visits are cancelled and a number of other restrictions were imposed.

6. Further Information

I based my blog post on a number of articles about Parweez Jawad, but also about the situation in Bahrain general. I can recommend the following articles:

There are also two general Amnesty International Reports about Bahrain which are interesting. There are both from 2012 and cover the protests and the human rights violations by police and security forces. Both reports also mention Parweez Jawad briefly:

I got also much information in a conversation with Parweez Jawad’s son Hussain Jawad on 8 January 2017. I am very grateful to Hussain for his patience in answering all my questions.

7. Please get involved and support Parweez Jawad

Hussain has been campaigning for his father all the years since his father’s arrest in 2011. Please support him.

Share Parweez Jawad’s story on social media and outside of social media. Please use on social media the hashtags #Free_Parweez and #ParweezJawad. Please read also the following post about a campaign of EBOHR and join the campaign.

2015 in review: Human rights and Social Media

I thought it would be a good opportunity to write about 2015 in review from my personal perspective and say thank you to everyone who read and shared my blog posts. WordPress.com sent me some interesting statistics and I want to share with you some personal thoughts about 2015 and my plans for 2016.

2015 was an exciting year for me and I would like to start with saying thank you:

  • Thank you to everyone who followed me on Twitter and even retweeted and liked my tweets.
  • Thank you to everyone who shared and signed petitions about people and topics which are important to me.
  • Thank you to everyone who read my blog or at least visited my blog. Thank you for sharing my blog posts and thank you for your comments and for even following my blog.

One year ago, I had not heard the name Raif Badawi. I did not know anything about the human rights situation in Bahrain and to be honest, I did not know  a lot about Bahrain at all. I had only a very vague knowledge about Saudi Arabia and Iran. I was certainly interested in human rights, but I did not do anything to raise awareness for specific cases and – I did not use social media at all.

If you had told me that a year later I would use Twitter regularly and I write a blog, I probably would have just laughed about this idea.

I started using Twitter in February 2015 and I started writing my blog in June 2015. I wrote about my reasons why I started to use Twitter and why I like it so much in my post “Twitter is great”. Just have a look at this post, in case you have not yet read it. I started writing a blog, because I wanted to have a “little bit” more space than just 140 characters and I am sorry that most of my blog posts are quite long.

During the last year I wrote eight blog posts: four of them are about human rights, three about classical music and one is a general introduction. The three most popular posts were:

  1. A Story in Tweets
  2. Twitter is great!
  3. Why I do care about Raif Badawi

It is really fascinating to see how many people visited my blog over the last year. It was visited by 698 people and it was viewed 2,450 times. WordPress tells me the following:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Most people found my posts via Twitter, but also via Facebook, because some of you were kind enough to share my posts on Facebook.

I find it really exciting that these 698 people / 2,450 views for my blog come from 60 different countries. Most views came from the United Kingdom (677 views). The United States are not far behind (608 view), followed by Bahrain (250 views) and France (220 views).

I do not want to bore you with more details about the last year. If you really want to know more then click here to see the complete report.

However, I would like to share with you some of my ideas for 2016:

  1. I will certainly continue to write about Raif Badawi. His wife published a book about him in German (“Freiheit für Raif Badawi, die  Liebe meines Lebens” – Freedom for Raif Badawi the love of my life). I would like to write about this book and also about the publication of his own essays.
  2. There will also be more about Bahrain. 2016 is the fifth anniversary of the Bahrain Uprising and the arrest of the members of Bahrain 13. I would like to write about them. In particular I would love to write about Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez. He belongs to Bahrain 13 and is Hussain Jawad‘s father.
  3. I love poetry and I heard last year about a number of poets who are in prison because of their poems. These poets include Mohammed al-Ajami a poet from Qatar, Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet who lives in Saudi Arabia and Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi who are two Iranian poets. I would like to write about these poets, but I am also interested in the relationship of poetry and politics in a more general sense and would like to write a post about this topic.
  4. There will be more about classical music, in particular about concerts and operas which I visit and about the programme in concerts by Highgate Choral Society.
  5. I also want to write about art and exhibitions. I saw during a visit in Rome and Sicily in October a number of paintings by Caravaggio which I find fascinating and which would be worth a blog post.

These are only some ideas and I hope there will be much more. If you find any of the ideas interesting than please keep an eye on my blog or decide to follow my blog. You only need an e-mail address to do so and you will receive an e-mail whenever I publish a new post.

I want to close with wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Let us hope that it is a year which brings more justice, freedom and peace to everyone.

A Story in Tweets

If you had read my post “Twitter is great!“, you know how much I was impressed by Asma Darwish’s tweets during the detention of her husband Hussain Jawad earlier this year. I mentioned in that post that “I would love to use the tweets in a later post to share this story with you.” Well, I asked her and I am very pleased that she gave me her consent for using her tweets for this post.

Some short remarks at the beginning: The tweets are by Asma Darwish, but there were so many tweets during these three months (15 February – 19 May 2015) that I had to make a selection. This selection is obviously subjective, but I hope that it conveys the story in all aspects without being too detailed. I have decided to arrange the tweets in eight groups – each group covering a certain period of time. I will give a few key dates as introduction to each paragraph, but I think that the tweets speak for themselves. If you want to see the tweets enlarged, you can click on each of them and see each group of tweets as a picture gallery.  Please note that the dates and times you can see on the tweets are GMT + 1 h, the time in Bahrain where she wrote the tweets is GMT + 3 h.

I. 15 February – 22 February 2015

In the night of 15 / 16 February 2015 Hussain Jawad, a Bahraini Human Rights activist, founder and chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), was arrested in a night raid at his home. He was brought to Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) which is notorious for torture. Hours and days of uncertainty followed for his family with limited information. The information the family received was first contradicting and then worrying and even disturbing.

II. 24 February – 4 March 2015

On 25 February Asma Darwish and their two year old son Parweez could finally visit Hussain Jawad in Dry Dock Prison. The following day (26 February) a procedural court hearing took place. The court extended the detention for 15 days.

III. 5 March 2015 – 13 March 2015

On 5 March Asma Darwish visited her husband a second time. In the following days a Special Investigation Unit interrogated Hussain Jawad and also Asma Darwish about the allegations of torture, but no actions seemed to follow from this investigation.

IV. 13 March – 22 March 2015

On 15 March Asma Darwish visited her husband a third time. Two days later, on 17 March, the first court hearing took place.

V. 22 March – 5 April 2015

In the following weeks Asma Darwish had two further opportunities to visit Hussain Jawad in prison (23 March and 31 March). EBOHR launched a campaign of solidarity for him and Asma Darwish asked people via Twitter to take a photo of themselves with some words of support for Hussain Jawad.

VI. 5 April – 13 April 2015

On 7 April a further court hearing took place. The court postponed the hearing until 22 April and Hussain Jawad remained in prison. On the following day, 8 April, Asma Darwish visited him again.

VII. 14 April – 4 May 2015

On 16 April, Asma Darwish visited her husband again in prison. A further court hearing on 22 April was again adjourned to 12 May, because the witnesses did not appear. Hussain Jawad remained in prison.

VIII. 5 May – 21 May 2015

In the following weeks Asma Darwish visited Hussain Jawad two more times on 5 May and the 13 May in Dry Dock Prison. A further court hearings took place on the 12 May and the 19 May. On the 19 May the court finally ordered Hussain Jawad’s release from prison.

The last tweet in this group is the first tweet he sent after his release: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

IX. A few links

Asma Darwish tweeted links to several articles. I would like to give at least the links to some of them, in case you want to know more about Hussain Jawad’s story. They are all well worth reading:

  1. 19 February: Faten Bushehri: “Hussain Jawad and human rights: A story that never ends
  2. 22 February: EBOHR: “URGENT CALL: SAVE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER MR. HUSSAIN JAWAD – ANOTHER VICTIM OF TORTURE IN 2015
  3. 2 March: Independent: Emanuel Stoakes: “Hussain Jawad’s detainment and torture highlights Britain’s shameless stance on Bahraini rights
  4. 4 March: Aljazeera America: Asma Darwish: “Tell US ally Bahrain to release my husband
  5. 19 March: EBOHR: “Letter from Jailed HRD Hussain Parweez to his Human Rights Colleagues: Storms can never Shake Mountains
  6. 30 March: Foreign Policy: Emanuel Stoakes: “Whatever Happened to Bahrain’s Torture Reforms?

X. All’s well that ends well?

Does this story have a happy end? Well, I would say, not yet.

Hussain Jawad was released on 19 May 2015, but it was just a conditional release. He faces a verdict today, on 13 September and there is another trial for other charges with a hearing in November. There is the risk that he will be sentenced to several years in prison on the basis of a forced confession and fabricated charges.

As you can see from the tweets also Hussain Jawad’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also know as Parweez, is in prison. The family received a few days ago the message that he was transferred to hospital, because he is ill. He is 68 years old and the Bahrain’s eldest political prisoner. He was in the meantime brought back to prison, but has still serious health problems, because he did not really receive any medical treatment in hospital.

There might not be a lot what each of us can do, but it would also be wrong to think that we can do nothing. If you use social media than please support Hussain Jawad and his work for human rights in Bahrain. If you are on Twitter please follow him (@HussainMJawad) and his wife Asma Darwish (@eagertobefree). Otherwise have a look at the Amnesty International Website and see how you can help. There are always urgent actions and petitions you can sign.

I choose his story as an example, but he is obviously by no means the only one – neither the only one in Bahrain nor the only one who experienced torture and unfair imprisonment. There are 1000s of people and 1000s of stories which are untold. Each of them equally deserves the attention and action of people who are able to help. Therefore please take action and do not stay silent.

XI. Addendum (17 December 2015)

The court did not hand down the verdict in September, but adjourned the court hearing.

Yesterday (on 16 December 2015) the court passed the judgment against Hussain Jawad. The sentence is two years in prison. Fortunately Hussain Jawad is currently not in Bahrain and therefore still free.

Poem: Yā ẓalām as-siǧn (O dark of prison shade us) by Najīb ar-Rayyis

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a classic Arabic poem by the poet Najīb ar-Rayyis. I want to share with you in the following post the poem (in an English translation), its background and how I heard about it.

O dark of prison, shade us,
for we dearly love the darkness.
After night there is nothing unless
a dawn of glory rises up.

Alas, o place of fame,
o dwelling of our faithful ones,
we offered young men to you
who have no fear of death

and we all gave our word to each other,
on that day we swore the oath.
We shall never break our word,
for we took righteousness as our faith.

O you guards, be lenient,
and hear the words we speak:
Let us enjoy the air,
to withhold it would be a sin.

By God, I shall never forget
the ills my nation is suffering.
I call you to witness, o stars,
that I have loyalty and love within me.

O clanking fetters, give me more
of that sound which saddens my heart,
for your voice gives a meaning
to mourning and oppression.

I was never an evildoer,
I never betrayed the regime;
far rather, the love of my country
holds fast a place in my heart.

1. The poem “Yā ẓalām as-siǧn” (O dark of prison shade us) was written by the Syrian Poet Najīb ar-Rayyis in 1922.

Najīb ar-Rayyis was born in 1898 in Hama, Syria. Hama belonged at that time to the Ottoman Empire. He was a journalist, editor and activist against the French mandate for Syria and Lebanon.

In 1919 Najīb ar-Rayyis went to Damascus and worked as journalist for several Syrian newspapers and a number of Lebanese newspapers. From 1928 onwards he was editor of the newspaper al-Qabas / ‏القبس‎ / ‚The fervour‘. This newspaper became soon a major publication for the Syrian national movement for independence and was highly regarded by the Syrian people.

Even before he became editor of al-Qabas he was famous for his articles which supported the national movement of Syria. His editorials for al-Qabas were respected for their strong criticism of the French colonial ruler. As a consequence the publication of al-Qabas was often forbidden or at least interrupted. Najīb ar-Rayyis paid a high price for his activism and his clear advocacy for Syrian independence. Between 1920 and 1943 he was several times in different prisons, penal camps and banished. Altogether he spent eight years of his life in prison.

After the end of the French mandate in 1946 Najīb ar-Rayyis was highly regarded. He was soon elected as a member of parliament under the president Shukri al-Quwatli. In parliament he was known to be a eloquent and courageous orator and defender of all matters of his country and the well-being of its people. After his service in the parliament he went back to his work as a journalist and wrote many further articles. He died in 1952 in Damascus.

2. The poem Yā ẓalām as-siǧn has to be seen in the same context as his work for several newspapers. It is one of the most famous works of Najīb ar-Rayyis. He wrote it 1922 during his banishment to Arwad – a Syrian island close to Tartus, Syria’s second largest port.

a) The 1920s were a significant time for Syria. After the First World War the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and there were two distinct developments. The colonial powers France and Britain divided the former Ottoman Empire 1918 between them. The French controlled parts of Ottoman Syria (mainly modern Syria and Lebanon) and parts of south-eastern Turkey. At the same time Faisal established the first Arab government in Damascus. In May 1919, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress who declared the independence of Syria in 1920. An independent Syria would conflict with the French idea of a colonial mandate over Syria (and Lebanon). On 23 July 1920 the Battle of Maysalun was fought between the Syrian and the French forces. The better equipped and trained French forces defeated the Syrian forces decisively. In the aftermath of the battle France divided the whole mandate territory in six parts and established between 1920 and 1922 six states. The poem was therefore written after this decisive defeat in Maysalun, when Syria was in the process of being divided  into different parts and Najīb ar-Rayyis’ dreams of an independent Syria were shattered.

b) The poem follows the pattern of a classical Arabic Qaṣīda, even so it is shorter than many Qaṣīdas. In the Arabic version every half-line has three stresses and there is a rhyme at the end of every second half-line.

Also the contents and structure follows a Qaṣīda.This form of poetry consists of three parts. The first part contains the introduction. It is usually a nostalgic opening in which the poet reflects on the past. This part is known as nasib. Very often this past situation is a sad or tragic one. A common concept is e.g. that the poet reaches the camp-site, but the caravan of the beloved has already moved on. The second part can be described as release or disengagement (takhallus). It often describes a transition from the nostalgia of the first part to the second section. Typically the poet contemplates in this section the harshness of the land and life alone away from the tribe. The third part of a Qaṣīda contains the message of the poem. The message can take several forms, e.g. some moral maxim (hikam) or in our case the self-praise of the poet.

3. I heard the first time about this poem at the beginning of April. Asma Darwish, the wife of the Bahraini human rights activist Hussain Jawad mentioned it in a tweet. She wrote on 8 April in her tweet after her visit in prison the following: “@HussainMJawad kept repeating in visit today a verse of an Arabic poem: “Oh darkness of prison, approach. We do not fear the dark”. I was immediately intrigued by this tweet. I love poetry and was very curious to know the complete poem. However, one line of a poem in translation without any further information is not enough to find a poem.

Hussain Jawad was released on 19 May 2015 (conditional release). Within a week after his release he tweeted a picture of an Arabic text which was obviously a poem. I assumed that this text was the poem he was quoting in prison. I was now even more curious. I do not speak Arabic, but I definitely wanted to know the translation of this poem which seemed to be so important to him that it accompanied him in prison and that he wanted to share it with everyone a very short time after his release.

So how did I get the translation? I use very frequently a language forum (for English and German). Over the years I had learned that the participants in this forum are very resourceful. I thought it was worth asking for ideas how I could find a translation of a poem which I cannot read and of which I know neither title nor author. I was not disappointed – to the contrary the reactions exceeded all my expectations by far. Within a short time, someone contacted me and told me that he speaks Arabic and that he would be happy to make a translation of the poem. He is German, therefore he translated the poem into German. We then put the German translation on the forum. Together with another participant of the forum who is an English native speaker we made the translation into English. For each question or uncertainty of the English translation our translator from Arabic gave feedback and tried to explain the structure of the original Arabic sentence and the meaning of the words which are used with the aim to get an English translation which is as close as possible to the Arabic original.

I love the result and I am delighted that I have now a translation of this poem which I can share with you.

4. I would like to finish my post with saying thank you to both people who helped so heavily with the translation of this poem. Both do not want to be named, but I am really very grateful for their help. Both did far more for the translation than I.

The person who translated the poem into German wrote afterwards a Wikipedia article about it for the German Wikipedia. You can find this article here. Everything I wrote here about the poem and the background heavily depends on this article. There is also an article about the poet and the poem in the Arabic Wikipedia. If you are interested in the original Arabic version of the poem please have a look here.

If you had read my earlier posts you know that I mentioned Asma Darwish and Hussain Jawad before. In case you have not read it, please have a look here.

I  want to ask every reader of this blog to take action for him. Please have a look at the urgent appeal for Hussain Jawad on the Strictly Legal Law blog of a friend of mine. You will find there more information about his case and a link to the Amnesty International urgent action for him which asks you to write to Bahrain and demand that all charges against him are dropped and that the allegations of torture are investigated. The next hearing in his trial is on 2 September and the charges against him are based on a forced confession.

Twitter is great!

During the past weeks and months a lot of friends were surprised about my current enthusiasm for Twitter. They found it hard to understand why it can be exciting to post and read messages with no apparent addressee which cannot have more than 140 characters.

I want to explain and give some examples in the following post, why I think Twitter is great. I am writing this post in particular for those friends who are puzzled by my excitement.

1. I have had a Twitter account since June 2009, but I did not really use it. I was hardly following anyone and I tweeted or retweeted not more than five tweets in all these years. I started using Twitter earlier this year in February, because I wanted to help and support Raif Badawi. I wrote more about that in my post Why I do care about Raif Badawi.

I signed up for Twitter in 2009, because so many newspaper articles about the Arab Spring mentioned that Twitter was an important means of communication during this time. I thought it was exciting to get first hand information via Twitter. However, I did not really get into it, because I was not sure what I should look for and whom I should follow. I find this an interesting coincidence, because I use Twitter now so heavily for prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders who were active during the Arab Spring or who are in any case from the MENA region (Middle East & Northern Africa) and stand for the ideas and values which played an important role during that movement.

2. During the past weeks and months I told a lot of my friends and colleagues about my current enthusiastic use of Twitter and I got almost always one of the following two reactions: Either people replied that they do not have a Twitter account and also do not really understand it or they replied that they have a Twitter account, but hardly ever use it. I want to explain why I am fascinated by Twitter. I think, it is an easy way to communicate in an informal manner with people all over the world and it is brilliant to spread news very quickly. The following two examples shall illustrate my statement: (a) my collection of translations of a phrase of support for Raif Badawi via Twitter and (b) the tweets by Asma Darwish (@eagertobefree), Hussain Jawad’s wife, over the whole period from his arrest in February 2015 until his (conditional) release on 19 May 2015.

3. A few months ago @VeraSScott who campaigns a lot for Raif Badawi came up with a phrase of support for him. The phrase is: “We will hold Raif Badawi in our hearts and minds until his family can hold him in their arms”. This phrase became very popular and many people used it. I liked it as well and suggested to her that it would be great to have it not only in English, but in many different languages. I collected over the past months translations in almost 60 different languages. I put each translation in a picture of Raif Badawi and his three children and you can find all languages and pictures here.

I got all translations by asking people on Twitter for it. I first asked all those who frequently campaign for Raif Badawi. I got a translation into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Hindi and Malayalam, but I wanted to have more translations. Therefore I sent tweets to the different Amnesty sections all over the world and to people who used the hashtag #FreeRaif or #RaifBadawi. Very often these were people who had only signed a petition for him. If they were in a country from which I did not have the language, I asked them for a translation. Finally I wanted to have some specific languages and just looked for people who posted in that language or where I found another indication that they might speak the language I wanted to have. The reactions I got to my tweets were great. The vast majority of people I asked for a translation were extremely friendly and helped very quickly.

I asked for example @rlamsfuss for a translation of the phrase into Persian. He told me that he could not translate the phrase, because he did not speak the language well enough. When I explained why I wanted to have the translation, he asked a friend @shary20 whether she could help. She sent me immediately a translation into Persian. Both were so friendly and helpful that I decided to follow them. I saw for which prisoners of conscience they mainly campaign and their kindness is one of the reasons why I campaign now for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki and Saeed Malekpour as well.

I used the translations during the past months and sent it to several people mainly to raise awareness for Raif Badawi. Again, the reactions were great and I got a lot of positive feedback. I sent a tweet with a picture of the phrase in Maltese to @mmic78. The tweet mentioned the number of days Raif Badawi had spent in prison and asked King Salman for mercy. @mmic78 translated my tweet spontaneously into Maltese and we exchanged a couple of tweets. We now follow each other. He is mainly interested in migration as well as Libya and Malta. He occasionally retweets my Raif Badawi tweets and other human rights tweets and I am happy to retweet his tweets on migration topics.

Without Twitter I would not have had any possibility to get all these translations so easy and I would not have learned about new interesting topics and people I have not been aware of before.

4. On 16 February 2015 the Bahraini Human Rights activist, founder and chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR) Hussain Jawad was arrested in a night raid of his house. He was brought to Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). Over the next days he was tortured by physical and psychological means to get him to sign a confession of crimes he has not committed. He was targeted because of his work as a human rights defender. He was then transferred to Dry Dock prison. Over the next months a number of hearings took place. On 19 May he was finally released, but it is just a conditional release and the trial based on the forced confession will take place in September.

His wife Asma Darwish who is also active in EBOHR tweeted about each step after his arrest until the news about his conditional release. I did not follow these tweets from the very beginning, because I think probably just started following Asma Darwish in March, but I read her earlier tweets later. She tweeted about everything which was significant in relation to her husband – beginning with the arrest, the uncertainty, because she could not reach anyone to inform her about his whereabouts and his well-being, the call in which he spoke only a few words which she could hardly understand and in which he confirmed that he was hurt.  She tweeted about each of her visits in prison (before she left and after she was back), she tweeted about each court hearing – every time with the hope that he would be released and always – apart from the last hearing –  with the disappointment when the court extended the detention again. Between her visits and the hearings she asked people to join tweet storms for her husband or to send photos of support for him. She tweeted the articles which were published about him during this time and tweeted pictures of him, but also of their son and herself. Even so a tweet has only 140 characters you can see all her determination and her love for her husband in these tweets; in some tweets you can sense her anger, her disappointment and also her hope. For me these tweets are a remarkable testimony of that story and I would love use the tweets in a later post to share this story with you.

I do not know any other way how she could have informed people worldwide as quickly and as easy about everything what happened. I think Twitter proved to be in this case an excellent means of communication across borders and irrespective of the difficult circumstances.

5. I could give many more examples how Twitter enabled me to get in contact with people and organisations very easily and how it helped to campaign for human rights causes and made it possible to interest people who campaign for certain prisoners to include others in their tweets as well.

Thanks to Twitter the times are over when it was easy for repressive regimes to keep things hidden and it is no surprise to me that human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab are in prison for their tweets. Countries like Bahrain have long realised what a powerful tool Twitter can be and how difficult it is to control. And thanks to Twitter it is easy for each of us to let prisoners of conscience via their friends and family members know that they are not alone and not forgotten.