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’ s Arab Spring, at Last” is the title of Thomas L. Friedman’s article in the New York Times in which he is full of praise for the reforms initiated by Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and First Deputy Minister since 21 June 2017. It is true that women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. The driving ban was lifted on 24 June 2018. There are also a few other small tokens of reform in Saudi Arabia.

However, there is not much change for human rights defender. You probably know my blog posts about Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair. Both are still in prison and there is no indication that this will change soon.  Also the crackdown against in particular women human rights defender has intensified in the last weeks.  It seems to be rather a “Winter of Discontent” for human rights in Saudi Arabia than the “Arab Spring” described by Friedman. Several women human rights defenders were arrested earlier this year in May. On 30 July 2018 Saudi security forces arrested the well-known women rights defender, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah.

I want to write in this blog post about Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah who were arrested on 30 July and about Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef who were arrested in May 2018.   

I. Arrested on 30 July 2018: Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah

1. Samar Badawi

img_4240a) Samar Badawi was born on 28 June 1981 in Saudi Arabia. She  has a long history of fighting for women’s rights against her father and against the Saudi Arabian authorities.

Samar Badawi was married to the human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair and she is Raif Badawi‘s sister.

b) Samar Badawi’s father had abused her for years. In March 2008 she decided to endure the  constant abuse not any longer and fled to the Protection Home in Jeddah, a shelter for victims of physical abuse.

However, things are complicated in Saudi Arabia. No women is free to make decisions for herself. Every woman has a male guardian who decides among other things where she is allowed to live. The guardian is usually the father or husband of the women, but it can also be her brother, her uncle or even her son. Samar Badawi left her home against her father’s wishes. Therefore he filed a charge of “disobedience” against her. However, the public prosecutor and the courts decided to drop the charges.

In 2009 her father sued again for “disobedience”. This time Jeddah’s Summary Court president, Judge Abdullah al-‘Uthaim, issued an arrest warrant against her, because she missed some court hearing. The judge justified his decision quoting the Interior Ministry decree 1900 and said “disobedience is among the serious cases requiring imprisonment”. Human Rights Watch argues that there is no basis for this statement in the decree. Samar left the shelter in July 2009 to live with her brother. She hoped that this would protect her against further abuse and imprisonment.

In 2010 she wanted to marry Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer, who had also acted on her behalf in court. Under the male guardianship rules she needed the consent of her father as her guardian to get married. He was not prepared to give his consent and Samar filed a so called “Adhl” case against her father, requesting to remove her father’s status as her guardian. She went to a hearing in this case on 4 April 2010 and was arrested based on an open “disobedience” warrant. Samar Badawi spent more than six months in prison and was finally released on 25 October 2010. An uncle of Samar became her guardian.

You can read more details about these court cases in an article by Human Rights Watch: “Saudi Arabia: Where Fathers Rule and Courts Oblige“. The article also the cases of two other women.

c) Samar Badawi also started legal actions to ensure women’s right to vote. Traditionally women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to vote and were not able to stand for office. In September 2011 King Abdullah changed this and granted women the active and passive voting right. There were municipal elections in September 2011, but women were not allowed to exercise their right to vote. The government explained their refusal with “logistical difficulties”. Samar did not think there was any basis in law to deny women their right to vote. She filed a lawsuit in the Grievance Board against the Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs, because of their refusal to register her as voter in the voter registration centre. She argued that there was no law against her registration and based her claim on Art. 3 and 24 of the Arab Charter for Human Rights. The Grievance Board accepted her cases in 27 April 2011, but then decided that her case was “premature”.

Her courageous actions were internationally acknowledged on 8 March 2012 when she was awarded with the 2012 International Women of Courage Award by the United States Department of State. They said about her:

“Badawi was the first woman to sue her father for abusing the guardian system and preventing her from marrying the suitor of her choice. She is also the first woman to file a lawsuit against the government demanding the right for women to vote, and launched an online campaign to encourage other women to file similar suits. The efforts of activists like Badawi helped encourage a royal decree allowing women to vote and run for office in future municipal elections.”

d) In 2011 and 2012 Samar Bawadi  joined the Women’s Driving Campaign. According to ADHRB there was never an official law which banned women from driving. However in the early 1990s the Council of Senior Religious Scholars issued a fatwa on the subject which argued that women who drive lead to “evil and negative consequences” . Therefore driving for women was forbidden. Women had been protesting against the driving ban since 1990. In 2011 Manal al-Sharif started on Facebook the campaign Women2Drive and encouraged women to defy the driving ban. Samar Badawi drove regularly from June 2011 onward and helped other women when they were arrested by the police or faced court proceedings of defying the driving ban.

In 2012 she filed charges in the Eastern Provinces Grievance Board against the General Directorate of Traffic, because they had rejected her application for a driving license. Samar argued that there is no legal basis for this rejection. She was the second women to do this after Manal al-Sharif who had filed an objection with the General Directorate of Traffic in Riyadh on 15 November 2011.

e) On 19 September 2014 Samar Badawi participated in a side event at the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council titled “Human Rights Violations in Saudi Arabia“. She spoke at this event about the case of her then husband Waleed Abulkhair who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 15 year travel ban once he is released for his advocacy for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Two days later she meet with the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva. On 20 September 2014 she travelled to the USA to meet US senators and secretaries of state to discuss the  situation of human rights defenders, in particular of Waleed Abulkhair.

On 2 December 2014 she went to the airport in Jeddah and wanted to fly to Brussels to participate in a Human Rights Forum organised by the European Union. Samar was informed that the Ministry of Interior had issued a travel ban against her for an indefinite period of time. No reasons were given for this travel ban, but it is likely that her advocacy work at the UN and in the USA in September 2014 played an important part in the decision to ban her from further travelling.

f)  Samar Badawi had been several times the target of arbitrary arrests, interrogations and harassment, in particular in 2016 and 2017. She was arrested on 12 January 2016 in connection with her human rights activism. She had been summoned on 7 January 2016. When she arrived with her two year old daughter Joud she was interrogated for 4 hours. The police questioned her in particular in the context of her activism for Waleed Abulkhair and about managing his twitter account. The next day she was released on bail.

On 13 February 2017 she was again summoned for questioning on 15 February 2017. There was no specific reason disclosed to her. She was again interrogated for several hours. She tweeted afterwards that the interrogation was connected with her human rights activism.

g) About two weeks ago, on 30 July 2018 security forces arrested Samar Badawi. Her whereabouts or the reasons for her arrest are unknown.

2. Nassima al-Sadah

img_4241a) Nassima al-Sadah is a longstanding activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She comes from the Eastern Provinces of Saudi Arabia. Nassima was a co-founding member of the human rights organisation Al-Adalah Centre which did not receive a permission to work as a human rights organisations.

b) Nassima al-Sadah was involved in 2011 and 2012 the Women’s Driving Campaign Women2Drive. She joined Manal al-Sharif and Samar Badawi  and filed in 2012 a claim against the traffic department of the interior ministry at the Dammam court in Eastern Province, because they refused to issue a driving license to her. She had applied repeatedly for a driving license. She was the third woman who had filed such a claim in court.

c) The municipal elections on 12 December 2015 were the first elections in which women had the active and passive voting right. There were 2106 open seats in 284 municipal councils. The municipal council has no influence on national politics and only limited authority over local affairs. Over 900 women registered as candidates for a seat in one of the councils. There were 4.5 million eligible female voters, but only 132,000 registered to vote. ADHRB explained that there were significant obstacles for women to get registered. One problem was there was only a three week window to get registered. Because of the guardianship system and the ban on driving, many women were unable to get to the registration centre to register.

Nassima al-Sadagh was one of the women who declared her candidacy for a municipal council seat. She also set up a campaign committee and held workshops to encourage women to get involved and get registered. One of the reasons she gave for her candidacy was the following:

“Men have to know that women must sit beside them in every decision-making and that their voices should be heard.”

There were also restrictions for women who stood as candidates, because they were not allowed to address men themselves and had to use a male spokesman to address men. About two weeks before the elections, Nassima was informed that she was disqualified as a candidate. The authorities gave no reason for her disqualification.

d) On 30 July 2018 security forces arrested Nassima al-Sadagh. Also in her case, no reasons were given for the her arrest and her whereabouts are unknown.

II. Arrested in May 2018: Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul

On 19 May 2018  the Saudi Press Agency reported that seven individuals have been arrested for their “suspicious contact with foreign entities”, “recruiting people working in sensitive government positions” and “providing financial support to hostile entities abroad with the aim of undermining the security and stability of the Kingdom, and shaking the country’s social fabric”. Amnesty International think that this statement refers i.a. to three women rights defender and two other human rights defenders. The women are Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul. All three are still in detention and are held at an unknown location.

1. Aziza al-Yousef

Aziza al-Yousef

a) Aziza al-Yousef is a Saudi academic and a women rights defender. Aziza is in her sixties. As a young girl she studied at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for one semester. She moved then to the United States, where she studied at Virginia Commonwealth University. She gained in the USA a bachelor’s degree in computer science and then completed her master’s degree at the King Saud University.

Azizia is mother of four sons and one daughter and had been a professor of computer science at King Saud University for 28 years. She is now retired. She has also for years helped women who fled abusive marriages and homes.

b) Aziza al-Yousef has been campaigning for years for an end of the male guardianship. In an interview with Rob L. Wagner, she explained that she hopes that the economic circumstances will result in greater freedom for women. The government wants to increase women’s employment from 22% to 30% by 2030. It is difficult to achieve this goal with the strict guardianship rules. She said:

“We are used to 26 years of making demands. There is nothing we can do but to continue this thing. I hope the government treats this as an economic situation and we hope to get more allies. We have a young population with 50% under the age of 26. It’s time to listen.”

In September 2016 Aziza al-Yousef was one of the supporters of a petition to King Salman to abolish the male guardianship. According to an article in the Guardian there were 2,500 women who sent telegrams to the office of King Salman to urge him to end the guardianship system. The petition itself gained about 14,700 signatories. The hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian spread awareness about the campaign.

Aziza al-Yousef explains in the above mentioned interview that she sees in the strict guardianship system more a tradition in Saudi Arabia which evolved in the last three decades than an obligation in Islam. She explains that there is no rule in Islam which prohibits a women to work or to study.

“Islam does not say that women should not work or study but that she is responsible for her own actions and if she has a debt, she is responsible for that debt.”

Aziza al-Yousef delivered the petition on 26 September 2016 to the Royal Court. As far as I am aware there was no reaction to the petition.

c) Aziza al-Yousef advocated for lifting the driving ban on women for a long time and was also detained several times, because she drove in Saudi Arabia.

She was one of the key organisers of women driving campaign in October 2013. The campaign called on women to drive on 26 October 2013. There was a lot of opposition to this action. In the weeks before the 26 October a leading Saudi cleric gave an interview and warned that women who would drive cars will damage their ovaries. Two days before the campaign date the Ministry of Interior issued a warning and told women to stay off the roads. Nevertheless, the organiser were able to post several films of women who had defied the driving ban and it was one of the most successful and widely supported campaigns. A few weeks after the campaign date Aziza Al-Yousef had an audience with the  Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, via teleconference. She emphasised in this conference the desire of many women and men to end the driving ban for women.

In December 2013 she was again arrested when she drove in Riyadh. Her passenger Eman al-Nafjan (see the next chapter) was also arrested. Both were released after a few hours in the custody of their husbands. The husbands were asked to sign a statement that their wives would not drive again. Aziza al-Yousef’s husband signed the statement, but also asked the authorities who demanded this pledge from him:  “How can I do that? I can’t prevent her from driving. Only God can do that.”

d) Aziza al-Yousef was among the activists who were arrested between the 15 and 18 May 2018. There is no information about the reasons for her arrest or her current whereabouts.

2. Eman al-Nafjan

Imam al-Nafjana) Eman al-Nafjan is a women rights activist and blogger from Saudi Arabia. Eman used to work as school teacher. She earned a master degree in Teaching English as foreign language at University of Birmingham. She is an assistant professor of linguistics at a university in Riyadh. Eman is married and mother of four children. Foreign Policy named her in 2011 as one of the TOP 100 Global Thinkers.

b) Eman al-Nafjan started her blog “Saudiwomen” in February 2008. It is a blog in English. She writes about a wide range of topics, in particular social and political topics in Saudi Arabia and about women’s rights. Her latest blog posts are about a book by Manal al-Sharif: Daring to Drive and “Change can happen in Saudi Arabia“. Eman al Nafjan also wrote articles in 2011 and 2012 which were published in the Guardian. She also contributed opinion pieces to other newspapers like CNN, Foreign Policy and Newsweek.

c) In 2011 Eman al-Nafjan participated in the Women2Drive campaign and wrote several articles about the campaign and its background, i.a. for the Guardian. For the women driving campaign on 26 October 2013, Eman al-Nafjan was a key figure who mobilised many women and community figures alike. She also drove publicly in Riyadh during this campaign. You can find one of her blog post on the Amnesty International website about the 26 October driving campaign. Eman describes in her post the long history of campaigning against driving ban and explains that there were specific proposals to abolish the ban which were sent to the Shura Council by Dr Mohammad al-Zulfa in 2006 and another by Abdullah al-Alami in 2012. However they were not discussed in public. Also Eman emphasises in her post that there is no religious basis for ban, but that it is rather “socially maintained”.

Eman al-Nafjan was arrested in December 2013 when she was a passenger in a car which was driven by Aziza al-Yousef. As Aziza, Eman was questioned and released after a few hours in the custody of her husband.

In September 2016 Eman al-Nafjan was a signatory and one of the advocates for the petition to King Salman to abolish the male guardianship system.

d) According to Gulf Centre for Human Rights Eman al-Nafjan was arrested on 17 May 2018. She was allowed to call her family once, but there is no information about the reasons for her arrest or her whereabouts.

3. Loujain al-Hathloul

img_4232

a) Loujain al-Hathloul is a Saudi women rights activist. Loujain was born on 31 July 1989. Her family comes from Qassim, a region at the heart of Saudi Arabia. Qassim is a very conservative region, but Loujain’s family is relatively liberal. Loujain lived as child several years in France. In 2015 Loujain al-Hathloul was named as the third most powerful Arab Women by the newspaper Arabian Business. She was also a participant of 2015 One Young World.

b) Loujain al-Hathloul explained in an interview with FT how she started being a campaigner for women’s rights. In 2012 she discovered a new app which was called Keek. Keek allowed its user to make 30 second videos which could be shared with others. Loujain was at at time studying French literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She was curious what Saudis uploaded. She was struck by one video of a women who said “Saudi women are stripped of their identity”. Loujain decided to make her own videos, showing herself with her hair uncovered and arguing for liberation of women, in particular by allowing women to drive. Her social media presence quickly grow and campaigners for Women2Drive got in contact with Loujain. She joined the campaign and one of her videos reached 30 million views.

c) On 21 October 2013 she came back to Saudi Arabia. Her father picked her up at the airport and gave her the key and asked her to drive the car. He also made a video which she shared. Loujain was disappointed that there was no reaction to her action, but her father was summoned and was asked to pledge that his daughter would not use the car in the future.

Loujain al Hathloul had a driving licence from Abu Dhabi which she got when she worked there. This driving licence was officially valid in all six GCC countries. Loujain decided to challenge the Saudi authorities. She drove her car to the Saudi border and wanted to enter with her car on 29 November 2013. Initially the authorities were unsure what to do with her and held her at the border for 26 hours. She was then told that she had two options: to head back or to face arrest. Loujain decided not to return to the Emirates. She spent 73 days in a prison in the Eastern province and the courts argued whether she should be charge under the terrorism laws for undermining the national security.  She was then released but only after she was prepared to sign a pledge not to speak out about women’s driving. She only accepted with a qualification – she would not make any new videos, but did not accept a restriction to her activities on Twitter.

d) Loujain al-Hathloul not only campaigns against the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia, but also for political rights and for the abolition of the male guardianship.

At the municipal elections on 12 December 2015 she decided to stand as on of the candidates. She explained that she want “to increase the percentage of women’s participation”. However her candidacy met the same fate as Nassima al-Sadah’s candidacy. Also Loujain’s name was struck from the list and no reasons were given for her disqualification.

In September 2016 she signed a petition to King Salman asking him to abolish the male guardianship. The petition was very popular and got more that 14,0000 signatures. Loujain al-Hathloul publicly advocated for the petition.

On 4 June 2017 she was arrested at the at King Fahad International Airport in Dammam and interrogated. A few days later on 7 June 2017 she was released without further charges.

e) About three months ago, on 15 May 2018 Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested again. This time the security forces came to her house. She has been held incommunicado since her arrest and it is unclear why she was arrested. She is still in detention.

III. Please campaign for Saudi women rights defenders

Since 24 June 2018 women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to drive, but those women who were instrumental in campaigning for the abolition of the driving ban are in prison.

As always, I would like to ask you to raise awareness for Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadagh, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathoul. All five are astonishing women and their stories are worth to be heard.

In May a Saudi newspaper tried to discredit Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathoul and other human rights defenders who were arrested by calling them “traitors”. They mentioned that the activists formed a “cell” and posed a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric“.

Saudi Arabia is very concerned about their public image. The crown prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud spent a lot of time during the past months to tour different Western countries and try to sell his ideas about reform and a “new Saudi Arabia”. Saudi Arabia reacted to criticism after the arrest of the women rights defenders in a quite drastic way.

After the arrest of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadagh the Canadian foreign office sent the following tweet:

img_4377

As reaction to the tweet Saudi Arabia denounced the statement as a “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols”. They expelled the Canadian ambassador and announced that they will “hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada”.

I think we should stand with Canada and make sure that the stories of these women stay in the public conscience. Please consider writing to the foreign office of your country and urge them to speak up for the arrested women rights defenders.

You can also tweet about the five women. All five women use social media themselves. Their Twitter handles are: Samar Badawi @samarbadawi15, Nassima al-Sadagh @nasema33, Aziza al-Yousef @azizayousef, Eman al-Nafjan @saudiwoman and Loujain al-Hathoul @LoujainHathloul. You can use as hashtags #FreeSamar, #FreeNassima, #FreeEman, #FreeAziza and #FreeLoujain.

Amnesty International UK started an online petition “Free Saudi women who fought for the right to drive“. Please sign and share this petition.

Amnesty International also issued an urgent action in May after the arrest of Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathoul. Even so the date for his action has past, you can certainly still write to the Saudi authorities on behalf of all five women and ask for their release.

I included links to quite a number of articles in my blog post. I want to recommend in particular the following articles and reports, if you want to know more about the human rights defenders and about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia in general.

  1. Report “Hollow Words, Empty Reforms: Saudi Arabia’s Effective Refusal to Reform Women’s Rights” by ADHRB (Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain)
  2. Human Rights Watch website “End Male Guardianship” with video clips and a lot of further information
  3. Human Rights Watch report “Boxed In. Women and Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship System
  4. A conversation with Saudi women’s rights advocate Aziza al-Yousef, Arab Weekly, 6 November 2016
  5. Eman al-Nafjan’s blog “Saudiwomen

Let us hope that the five women will soon be released and that a true Arab Spring will happen in Saudi Arabia.

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Support for Raif Badawi from around the world

In 2015 I started a project for Raif Badawi. I collected over time 100 translations of a phrase of support for him from people all over the world. I wrote about this project already in June 2015 on the website in support of Raif Badawi and also mentioned the project in my earlier post Twitter is great.  To mark the anniversary of his flogging on 9 January 2015 and his 33rd birthday on 13 January, I want to share my post in an amended form also from my blog.

1. What is the background?

In February 2015 @VeraSScott a human rights activists came up with the following phrase of support for Raif Badawi: “We will hold Raif Badawi in our hearts and minds until his family can hold him in their arms”. This phrase proved to be very popular and soon many people were using it on Twitter.

I liked the phrase and thought it would be great, if we have this wonderful phrase of support for Raif not only in English, but in many different languages. Raif Badawi became during the weeks and months after he was flogged the first time an international symbol for the struggle of so many people for human rights and freedom of speech. This international interest in his case and his fate should manifest itself in support for him in languages from all over the world.

Initially I was not sure how many translations I wanted to collect, but then I decided that it really should be translations into 50 languages. Saudi Arabia decided to flog Raif Badawi in January 2015 50 times and they planned to give him 50 lashes each week, we should show him our support in 50 languages – one for each lash he had to endure.

When I published this article initially I had collected 56 languages. After that I continued to collect translations of this phrase. Now I have 100 pictures with translations of this phrase of support.

2. Which languages are represented?

If you look at the list of languages below, you will see an amazing variety of languages.

There are European, African and Asian languages. The seven UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) are represented. You will find translations in the 12 languages which are spoken by most people in the world as their native language (Hindi, Bangla, Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese in addition to the UN languages). But you can also find languages as Scottish Gaelic and Romansh which are only spoken by a few ten thousand people or languages as Luxembourgish and Maltese which are spoken by some hundred thousand people.

The languages represent different cultures and connected with the different cultures also different religions. However, the support for Raif Badawi and for human rights goes beyond culture and religion.

3. Who translated the phrase?

I got all the translations via Twitter and again the broad range of different people who were willing to help was astonishing. People from Iceland in the North to Australia in the South and from Canada in the West to Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in the East helped with the translations. I had people from each continent of the earth who helped with this project.

Also the background of the people and their involvement in campaigns for Raif Badawi covered a broad range of different types of involvment. I asked many Amnesty International divisions for translations and a lot of them helped me. I asked the people who tweet a lot for Raif. But I was more surprised that also such people were happy to help who had only signed one petition for him or even people who did not seem to have any prior involvement in campaigns for Raif Badawi. Some of them not only translated the phrase for me, but also used the picture afterwards themselves and asked their followers to take action.

I think this is a moving sign for the global support and global outcry Raif Badawi’s case has attracted.

4. What follows next?

Please continue to use the pictures and the phrase in different languages. Add them to your tweets, share them on Facebook and on Instagram and continue to support Raif Badawi and his family.

You will find below a list of all the languages and also all the pictures. They are roughly in geographical order, starting with Europe. I collected a lot of Indian languages. For the ease of reference, you will find languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent in a separate group. The next group includes all remaining Asian languages and the last group comprises of all African languages.

I think 100 languages is a good number and I decided that I will not actively continue to collect further languages. However, if you speak a language which is not yet represented and think it should be represented, then please tweet me at @CiLuna27 and send me your translation. I am happy to put it in a picture as well.

5. The Languages

a) European Languages

  • English
  • Irish
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Welsh
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Catalan
  • Basque
  • Galician
  • French
  • Dutch
  • German
  • Luxembourgish
  • Rumantsch
  • Italian
  • Maltese
  • Greek
  • Albanian
  • Macedonian
  • Bulgarian
  • Romanian
  • Hungarian
  • Serbian
  • Croatian
  • Bosnian
  • Slovene
  • Slovak
  • Czech
  • Polish
  • Icelandic
  • Norwegian
  • Danish
  • Swedish
  • Finnish
  • Estonian
  • Latvian
  • Lithuanian
  • Belarusian
  • Ukrainian
  • Russian

b) Languages of the Indian Subcontinent

  • Hindi
  • Awadhi
  • Bangla
  • Bhojpuri
  • Chittagonian
  • Gujarati
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Marathi
  • Marwari
  • Nepali
  • Pahari
  • Punjabi (Gurmukhi)
  • Punjabi (Shahmukhi)
  • Saraiki
  • Arabic Sindhi
  • Devanagari Sindhi
  • Sinhala
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Urdu

c) Other Asian Languages

  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
  • Turkish
  • Kurdish
  • Armenian
  • Georgian
  • Azeri
  • Persian
  • Kazakh
  • Uzbek
  • Pashto
  • Dari
  • Mongolian
  • Chinese
  • Tibetan
  • Vietnamese
  • Thai
  • Indonesian
  • Malaysian
  • Tagalog
  • Visayan
  • Korean
  • Japanese

d) African Languages

  • Afrikaans
  • Chibemba
  • Dholuo
  • Ekegusii
  • Hausa
  • Igbo
  • Kirundi
  • Luhya
  • Ndebele
  • Oromo
  • Shona
  • Somali
  • Swahili
  • Wolof
  • Xhosa
  • Yoruba

 

 

2016 in review: Iran, Shawkan and Poetry

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote an article in which I looked back at the previous year. I thought it would be nice to start 2017 in a similar way. In the following post I will share my thoughts about 2016 and give you an idea about my plans for my blog in 2017. 

1. As last year I want to start this blog post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my blog posts. I also want to thank in particular those who participated in the campaigns. I saw that many of you clicked on the links to Amnesty International petitions and urgent actions and also actions by other human rights organisations. Thank you for joining the tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki in January 2016 and for joining the “Sky for Shawkan”-campaign from September 2016 onwards.

2. 2016 was my first full year of blogging. I wrote 16 blog posts during the year. The articles are in six different categories:

  • 11 posts about human rights in countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Eight posts are about prisoners and activists in Iran, four about Saudi Arabia, two about Egypt and one each about a prisoner in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates.
  • two posts about poetry (they are both in two categories “human rights” and “poetry”)
  • two posts about Twitter (again both posts are in two categories “human rights” and “Twitter”)
  • three posts about classical music
  • one post about art and
  • one post in the General category.

a) The most popular post in 2016 was Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” with 457 views. I would like to thank in particular the Australian comedian Wil Anderson who shared my post on Twitter and Facebook which resulted in a large number of visitors to this post, in particular from Australia. Also thanks to Melody Sundberg who shared this post on her website “Untold Stories of the Silenced” in English and in a translation into Swedish. Shawkan is sadly still in prison. Further hearings took place on 8 October, 1 November, 19 November, 10 December and 27 December 2016. The next hearing will be on 17 January 2017. Please continue to share his story and ask for his release.

b) The second most popular post was Tweet Storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with 298 views. The tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki took place on 18 January 2016, because after a furlough of about 6 months, he was ordered back to prison. Many visited my blog on the day of the tweet storm and it was great that so many of you participated in it. On 19 January 2016 Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki returned to prison. After 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike, he was again given furlough on 4 May 2016. Hossein is currently free, but can be called back to prison at any time.

c) I also want to mention the articles which were my third and fourth most popular ones: Sky for Shawkan with 171 views and Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami with 166 views.

“Sky for Shawkan” is a Twitter campaign for Shawkan. He mentioned in a letter that he misses the sky in prison and therefore we decided to take photos of the sky and tweeted them with the hashtag #SkyforShakwan to raise awareness for him. My blog post shares a selection of 60 photos which were tweeted by people from all over the world within the first week of the campaign. I am delighted that so many of you participated in it and still tweet photos for him. Please keep doing so. I hope Shawkan will soon be free and I wish he would be able to see the photos from all over the world.

“Forbidden Poetry” was the first of two posts about poets who are punished for their poetry. It tells the stories of Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran) and Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar). The second post shares one poem of each of the three poets. I would like to thank the editor of “The Wolfian” for publishing this article in Issue 8 of this magazine.

3. I was amazed last year about the number of visitors to my blog and the variety of countries they came from and I am amazed again this year.

During 2016 2,333 people visited my blog and it got 4,522 views. The visitors were from 79 different countries. Most views came from the following three countries: (1) United States (1,063 views), (2) United Kingdom (785 views) and (3) Germany (579 views). I hope for many visitors in 2017.

4. Enough about 2016, I want to share some of my ideas for 2017:

a) Raif Badawi is sadly still in prison and I will certainly again write about him in 2017. I wrote some time ago an article about my Raif Badawi translation project which I mentioned in my post Twitter is great in 2015. I have in the meantime even more languages and I want to republish this article in an amended form in the next days to mark the anniversary of the day on which Raif Badawi was lashed (9 January 2015) and his birthday (13 January 1984). I hope that he will be released soon, but I am afraid that can only happen if he receives a Royal Pardon.

b) I tweeted during 2016 a lot about Bahrain, but I did not write an article about it. Therefore I definitely plan to write articles about Bahrain in 2017. I still want to write about Hussain Jawad’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez. Furthermore I am very impressed by Nabeel Rajab. Nabeel Rajab is currently in prison in Bahrain. He was arrested on 13 June 2016 on several fabricated charges. The trial is still ongoing. In the last hearing on 28 December 2016 the court ordered his release and adjourned the hearing to 23 January 2017. However, the public prosecution refused to release him and decide to keep him in prison on other charges. He is the only activist I mentioned in my first post about whom I have not yet written a blog post.

c) Another topic about which I would like to write this year is art and human rights. During the past year I came across a number of artists who use their art to highlight the fate of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The prime example of an artist-cum-human rights activist is of course Ai Weiwei, but there are also lesser known artists who paint or make drawings to highlight specific human rights cases. I want to write about some of these artists and want to see what motivates them to use their art in their human rights activism.

d) There will be again blog posts about classical music. I will certainly write about the programmes of our concerts with Highgate Choral Society, but maybe also about other concerts or opera performances I visit.

e) Finally I would like to continue writing about art and exhibitions and also about poetry. We will see what the next year brings.

I hope you like my ideas. There will certainly be many more as the year progresses. If you like them, then please keep an eye on my blog or follow my blog. If you decide to follow my blog, you only need an e-mail address and you will get an e-mail each time I publish a new article.

Let me close this post with my best wishes for 2017 and the hope that 2017 will be a good year for justice, peace and human rights all around the world.

“Raif Badawi in books” – thoughts about two books by and about Raif Badawi

I want to share in this post some thoughts about two books which were published last year: Ensaf Haidar’s book: “Freiheit für Raif Badawi, die Liebe meines Lebens” (“Freedom for Raif Badawi, the love of my life”) and a collection of Raif Badawi’s blog posts “1000 Lashes because I say what I think”. Both are great sources, if you want to know more about Raif Badawi and Ensaf Haidar’s struggle for her husband. 

1. I wrote my last post about Raif Badawi about a year ago. It was published on 24 March 2015 on the Raif Badawi website and you can also find it here in my blog.  I asked myself in it

Why do I think every day of Raif Badawi, even so I do not really know a lot about him?”

I still think about and tweet for Raif Badawi every day, but the basis of information about him has luckily changed. A year ago you could only find one or two of his blog posts in an English translation. In addition the Guardian had published an article with a couple of excerpts of his posts. Also the personal information about him was sparse. There were a number of articles and the information on the Amnesty website, but nothing more comprehensive.

The situation has completely changed, because of the publication of two books since my last post:

a) The first publication was in April 2015. Ullstein Verlag, a German publishing house, published the book “1000 Peitschenhiebe, weil ich sage, was ich denke”. It is a collection of 15 blog posts by Raif Badawi in German translation. During the course of the following months also an English translation of the book followed and now it is available in addition in French, Italian and Dutch. This book enables us to finally read the posts which led to Raif Badawi’s severe punishment.

b) The second book is by Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar and was published in October 2015. The book is so far only available in German under the title “Freiheit für Raif Badawi, die Liebe meines Lebens”, but the English translation will follow in the next days (on 16 March 2016). The book is a biography about Raif Badawi and tells the story of Raif and Ensaf’s love, their live together and her struggle for his freedom and his life.

2. Ensaf Haidar: “Freiheit für Raif Badawi, die Liebe meines Lebens” (Freedom for Raif Badawi, the love of my life)

a) The book “Freiheit für Raif Badawi, die Liebe meines Lebens” starts with a short chapter about Ensaf Haidar’s current life in Sherbrooke, Canada and her involvement in campaigns for Raif. The following chapters tell chronologically their story from their first encounter until the presence.

It was chance that Ensaf Haidar and Raif Badawi got to know each other. Ensaf’s sister Hanan receiRB 2ved a mobile phone as a present for her wedding. However, she thought that she would not really need it as a married woman and passed it on to her younger sister Ensaf. Ensaf was at the end of her Koran studies at university and her sister thought she could use the phone when the driver is late picking her up from university. One evening she saw that someone had tried to reach her. She had registered her number with the job centre because another sister Egbal had urged her to do so. She called back after business hours and expected to leave a message on the answering machine. However this was not the job centre who had tried to reach her, but Raif Badawi whom she did not know. Apparently also one of her brothers had used the phone and Raif Badawi dialed the wrong number. Initially she was very hesitant and did not want to speak with him, because to speak with a man who does not belong to the family is not accepted behaviour in Saudi Arabia and actually even dangerous because they could be punished for it. Raif was very persistent and in the end they spent the whole night on the phone speaking about their favourite music and their lives. It is very poignant to read how they saw each other the first time. On a Friday when her brothers were at the mosque, Ensaf went to their room which had windows to the street. Raif came to the house as arranged and was standing in front of the house looking up to the window to see at least a glimpse of her. Ensaf threw down a carnation which Raif picked up and kept like a treasure.

After this first opportunity to see each other briefly and from afar a period of secrecy and many more calls followed. Two months later they decided that they could only be together, if they got married. Raif spoke with her father and proposed marriage. For her father Raif was not a suitable husband. He did not come from a respectable family and her father outright ignored Raif ‘s proposal. He did not even considered him worthy to receive an answer. It took 18 months for Ensaf to convince her family that they should accept the marriage proposal and it seems they only finally accepted because she threatened to do something forbidden and bring shame over family.

Ensaf Haidar tells about her wedding and their honeymoon in Syria and in Lebanon and how she enjoyed the freedom in these countries. She also tells about their first flat together in her home town Jazan in southern Saudi Arabia. The relationship between the newly-wed couple and her family remained difficult and after their first child Nedschua was born they decided to move to Jeddah to escape the constant interference from her family. Raif started an institute to teach women English and the use of computers. Ensaf Haidar is very open when she tells how lonely she felt in this city in which she did not know anyone and that she was even jealous, because Raif spent so much time in the institute and did not seem to be very interested in her any more. During this time he also started his Internet forum in which he discussed liberal thoughts. He did not speak with Ensaf about it, but she saw one day his computer and decided to sign up for the forum herself under a pseudonym. She even wrote comments to some articles. She was very fascinated by this other side of Raif which she did not know. At the end of the year 2007 after the birth of the third child Miriam the police came the first time and seized his books and computers. This was the first incident in which they realised that the authorities did not like the liberal thoughts which were discussed in the forum and much worse should happen. They even thought at that time about leaving Saudi Arabia and stayed for some weeks in Malaysia. None of them spoke Malaysian and everything was more difficult than expected, therefore they went back to Saudi Arabia.

Ensaf Haidar describes in some detail the persecution and harassment by the police which got worse and worse over time. Raif was interrogated by the police and the court and they even froze his accounts and all his assets and withdraw all his citizen rights. One important factor was that Raif Badawi’s father Mohammed Raif Badawi hates his son. He made videos and put them online and later also gave interviews on the Saudi Arabian television in which he claimed that his son had abandoned Islam and was an apostate. Conservative clerics shared this opinion and declared a fatwa against him. Life got more and more difficult and the threats against him and his family got more and more severe. On one evening he was attacked by someone with a knife who tried to kill him. After this assassination attempt they knew that they were not any longer safe in Saudi Arabia. Ensaf Haidar first went with their three children to Egypt, but then decided to go rather to Lebanon because of the uncertain political situation in Egypt. Between Egypt and Lebanon Ensaf and the children went briefly back to Jeddah for one week. This was the last time they saw Raif. They stayed in Lebanon and still  hoped that Raif would be able to follow them soon. Sadly this was not the case because he was not allowed to travel any more and then on 17 June 2012, he was arrested on the charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels”, later also apostasy (conscious abandonment of Islam) was added which carries a mandatory death sentence in Saudi Arabia. Ensaf and Raif realised quickly that the family would also not be safe in Lebanon. Ensaf got calls from unknown persons who threatened her. In addition her family started on her behalf (and against her will) proceedings to get her divorced from Raif Badawi. When she did not agreed to these divorce proceedings, her family disowned her. Ensaf  and Raif decided it would be best, if she applied for political asylum at the United Nations. Finally they got the information that Canada had offered them political asylum. This decision come just in time, because Raif’s father tried to get custody for the three children.

In the last two chapters of the book Ensaf Haidar tells about her journey from Lebanon to Canada and her first impressions of Canada. Again she is very open about her feelings. She is relieved to be in safety and to know that her children are not at risk anymore to be taken from her. On the other hand the culture is very different from anything she knew. They arrived in November and it was winter and much colder than they were used to. But she also speaks about all the people who help her to take care of all formalities and her first contacts with Amnesty International in Sherbrooke. Things were even more difficult, because she hesitated for a long time to tell the children that their father is in prison. She occasionally had a chance to speak with Raif and he urged her not to inform their children about his current situation. Only when the pressure on her got greater and greater and also the newspapers started to report about Raif Badawi’s fate, she could not conceal the truth any longer. She was in a similar dilemma when Raif Badawi was flogged on 9 January 2015. She did not want to tell their children, but had to realise that everyone else knew about it (including all their class mates).

The book finishes in a positive tone. Ensaf Haidar emphasises how grateful she and also Raif are for all the support they receive from people all over the world and all the prices he was awarded. She ends with the hope that King Salman will grant mercy in and will pardon Raif Badawi and she imagines what they would do when they are finally reunited again.

b) I can highly recommend Ensaf Haidar’s book. It gives an interesting insight in her life with Raif and their story. I am particularly impressed how she describes her own development and also Raif Badawi’s development.

At the beginning of the book Ensaf seems to be reasonably happy with her life. She had studied, but she knew that she would probably never work. She was even reluctant whether she should register with the job centre at all. She was looking forward to long holidays where she would live with her family, stay up late and sleep long until her family decided that she should get married and then she would take over the duties of a wife. Her attitude to life changed after she got to know Raif Badawi and fall in love with him. She decided to fight for a future together with him and also finally got the consent to marry him. After her marriage it took time for her to make her own decisions and become more independent. It was for her a gradual process and you get an understanding how this inexperienced girl from the beginning becomes a woman who organises her life and the life of their children and now even speaks with the press, the public and politicians about her husband and leads the campaign for his freedom.

Also Raif Badawi changed a lot over time. He was certainly in love with Ensaf when the first got to know each other and made her many presents, but his idea of a relationship was a rather traditional one. He did not tell anything about his work at home and also made all decisions by himself without even consulting Ensaf. This changed slowly when he starting writing in the forum. Ensaf describes that she read his posts in which he spoke about women’s rights, but that he still behaved at home as always and she did not really see him to put his words into practice. She challenged his behaviour and slowly he really also did change his behaviour, spent more time at home with their children and with her. He also started to discuss his thoughts and his articles with her and was interesting in her ideas.

An other aspect which I found interesting was her remarks about the relationship of the house of Saud and the Wahhabism which goes back almost 300 years to an agreement between Muhammed ibn Saud, the head of the family at that time, and Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. In this agreement Abd al-Wahhab provided the house of Saud with a religious legitimation for their claim to the throne of Saudi Arabia and the Saud family promised to spread and support the extremely conservative ideas of Abd al-Wahhab. That is what they are doing until today and this extreme conservatism is also a reason for Raif Badawi’s medieval punishment.

Finally it was intriguing to read all the background information about Raif Badawi and his father. I knew before that it was a troubled relationship and that the father condoned the punishment of Raif and even asked for the death penalty for Raif, but I was not aware how long back this hostility went. His father beat Raif and his sister and when Raif was 13 he was even sued by his father for disobedience and spent six months in a prison for children. I think this information puts a lot of slander and claims you occasionally read on Twitter in perspective.

3. Raif Badawi: “1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I think”

The second book is a collection of 15 of Raif Badawi’s blog posts. All posts were chosen by Ensaf Haidar and were originally published between 2010 and 2012. They had to be reconstructed with her help, because it is apparently difficult to find Raif’s posts still online.

RB 1The articles cover a great variety of different topics. There are some articles which focus on Saudi Arabia and its laws and customs. One of these articles is “Let’s Lash Some Astronomers”. Islamic scholars claim that the view of astronomers about the earth and the universe are not compatible with the Sharia view of the world and argue that astronomers are therefore heretics. Raif Badawi praises sarcastically the “Sharia  Astronomy” and suggests that the USA abolish NASA. He recommends also scientists in other fields to stop their studies and learn from the “glorious preachers” in Saudi Arabia who always have the final word in everything. Other articles like “A Male Escort for Every Female Scholar”, “Mixed or Divided” and “The Book” all deal with the role of women in Saudi Arabia. In each of these articles Raif Badawi argues passionately for equal rights for women and men. I thought it was particularly interesting to read his arguments in “The Book”. The article is about the International Book Fair in Riyadh. For the first time it was open for men and women at the same time without segregation. Raif Badawi applauds this decision and also argues that the mixing of genders is not forbidden under Islamic law. He explains further that historical documents show that also at the time of the prophet Mohammed men and woman worked, prayed and lived side by side. I find it remarkable that he does not seem to criticise in such articles Islam as such, but rather the – from his perspective – wrong interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Another group of articles are about specific themes and topics which go beyond Saudi Arabia. Interesting are “No to Building a Mosque in New York City” and  “Yes! I Will Fight Theists and Religious Thoughts”. In the first article “No to Building a Mosque in New York City” he criticises the intention of the New York Muslims who wanted to build a mosque on the area where the World Trade Centre stood. He tries to put himself in the shoes of an “ordinary American” and argues that Saudi Arabia would certainly not build a church or synagogue, if a Christian or Jewish person had attacked Saudi Arabia. He then continues to explain that Saudi Arabia refuses to build churches altogether. He uses this example to call for freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia and more religious tolerance from Muslims and sees this as a prerequisite for a positive relationship with everyone irrespective of the religion.

To respect the opinions of those who stand against you is nothing short of courageous. We need to be champions in accepting the beliefs of others and their right to make their own decisions and believe in their own religions“.

(Raif Badawi)

Also the article “Yes! I Will Fight Theists and Religious Thoughts” is remarkable. It starts with the statement that he would be the first person to fight against Hamas, if they would ever “liberate Palestine” and “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”.  He clarifies that he is against the Israeli occupation but at the same time declares that  he is also against an Islamic religious state which might replace Israel in such a scenario. He uses this article to argue against any state which is based on religion and emphasises instead the importance of the individual and of individualism.

There are also general article about freedom of speech and liberalism. In “Let’s Talk about Enlightenment” and “Is Liberalism Against Religion?” Raif Badawi defends and champions liberalism. He strongly advocates a free society in which all ideas, believe systems and philosphies are in competition with each other. He also defends liberalism against the critisism that liberalism is against religion. Raif Badawi argues that one element of liberalism is to provide indidual freedom including freedom of religion. In a liberal society religion is a personal choice which everyone can make, but no one is forced to make.

Liberalism means to simply live and let live. We should all acknowledge our respect for traditions and personal behaviour of others, as long as they don’t cross the line for others and invade their personal space … your freedom ends on the outskirts of the freedom of others.

In summary also Raif Badawi’s book “1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I think” is definitely worth reading to understand Raif’s motivation and his thoughts. In addition to Raif’s 15 articles, there are in the English translation three “prefaces” in the book which are well worth reading. The “foreword” is by Lawrence M. Krauss, the “preface” by Constantin Schreiber and an “introduction” by Raif Badawi himself. He dictated this introduction to Ensaf Haidar in several calls. My only criticism against the book is that it is too short. The book has only about 60 pages and I would definitley love to read far more of Raif’s articles.

4. Finally I would like to provide you with the bibliographic information for both books (in German and English):

Raif Badawi’s book is a non-profit project and all proceeds from the book will be donated to Raif Badawi’s family in aid of their efforts to free Raif. Therefore if you buy the book you will not only get an insight in his thoughts, but also directly support the campaign for his freedom.

 

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.

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.

Why I do care about Raif Badawi

The following article was published the first time on the Raif Badawi website on 24 March 2015. Here is a link to the article on this website. There is also a German version on that website, in case you are interested. Please look also at this website for petitions and other ways how you can help him.

I read the first time about Raif Badawi in January after he was flogged in Jeddah. I was immediately surprised and shocked by the harshness of the sentence – 10 years in prison, the equivalent of GBP 175,000 and – 1000 lashes. I thought and still think it’s hard to believe that in the 21st century any state would still have the power to lash its citizens.

I signed all petitions I could find, but I was determined to do more. When I read the Amnesty International website “5 ways you can help Raif Badawi”, I decided to start tweeting. I had a Twitter account since 2009, but never used it. This certainly has changed. Over the last weeks I have been tweeting every day – in the meantime more than 10,000 tweets. 90% cover just one subject – Raif Badawi. I have been protesting together with EnglishPen in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy, whenever I can get away from work, and have been writing letters and emails mainly to politicians and governments.

I asked myself over the last days, why this case preoccupies me so much and why I cannot forget it. Why do I think every day of Raif Badawi, even so I do not really know a lot about him?

I assume it is a combination of several factors:

1. The most important factor is the severity of the corporal punishment and the reason why he is punished. To lash someone for any crime is cruel and inhuman, but it is even more appalling, because the “crime” is something we all take for granted every day. Most of us use the internet and social media daily. We are used to say our opinion freely and criticise our countries and governments, if we think it is necessary. This right of free expression is something which is natural for us. It is something we sometimes not even question and something we probably not always treasure enough. To imagine that a young man who did the same as we do has to suffer such a harsh punishment for his actions is horrible.

2. The way the lashes are planned to be administered is another factor. To imagine the public humiliation in addition to the pain is difficult to bear. In addition, the long period of time it will take to give Raif Badawi all 1000 lashes means that considerable mental torment is added to the physical pain. We all are thankful that he is not beaten at the moment, but I assume that he is anxious because of the uncertainty whether they will start again to flog him. This might mean that the mental torment still continues, even if the physical torture has stopped for the time being.
The notion that the Saudi state “cares” for the prisoner and that medics are consulted on the question whether he is able to endure another round of lashes is horrific. It is absurd and outrageous that the wounds which were inflicted by the state have to heal enough to be opened by the state again and again. You almost have the impression that the state is eager to ensure that Raif Badawi will indeed suffer the full set of lashes without dying before he has received the last one.

3. I think also the timing of the start of the flogging contributed to my reaction. The shooting in Paris took place just a few days before the flogging. Saudi Arabia protested together with a large number of other states against this attack on the freedom of expression, even so they punished at the same time a man in the severest way for the exercise of the same universal human right. For me this is a hypocrisy which I find hard to bear. In addition this sentence is virtually the same type of punishments which are inflicted by ISIS. I cannot understand how anyone can condemn ISIS for beheadings and floggings and condone the same behaviour in Saudi Arabia.

4. The last reason is that for me Raif Badawi and his punishment raises a number of questions which go far beyond his person and his fate. It raises the question whether human rights are universal or whether the interpretation and boundaries of human rights differ depending on the cultural and religious background. I firmly believe that human rights are universal and inalienable, but ever so often this is questioned by non Western states. They usually reproach the West for not understanding their culture and their values and for trying to impose on them a purely Western concept of human rights.

At the same time this case asks every one of us and our governments, how we see the relationship of human rights on the one hand and economic and strategic interests on the other hand. Saudi Arabia is a country which many Western states see as an ally and partner for economic and strategic reasons. How far are the Western states prepared to insist on their understanding of human rights and what are the consequences on a larger scale? This is neither the time nor the place to discuss these questions in detail, but I think we all will have to deal with these questions now and also in the future, beyond the fate of Raif Badawi.

I am impressed and amazed by the global reach of the campaigns and protests we currently see in support of Raif Badawi. I hope that we all will not relent in our support, even if it might take longer to free him than we all wish for. I hope that we all continue to protest and campaign until he is released and reunited with his family.

Until then our campaigns and protests hopefully help Raif Badawi and his family to cope better with this terrible situation. I think we already have achieved something, if we help him and let him know that he is not alone in his struggle and not forgotten and that we will not look away, but will stay with him and support him until he is free.