Open Letter From Human Rights Defender Fatima Al Halwachi to the President of the European Parliament
Dear Mr. Martin Schulz
President of the European Parliament,
It is 20th of January 2016, my name is Fatima Al Halwachi, a 25 years old woman from Bahrain. I work as Head of Monitoring and Documentation in the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR). I have long admired my father’s stand for human rights and political freedom in Bahrain. But now I find myself in a situation where I am the one struggling to secure his freedom in a case based on trumped-up charges.
I am writing this letter in regards to my father Khalil Al Halwachi who has recently turned 58 years old. My father, however, spent the last one and half year behind bars in Dry Dock Detention Centre in Bahrain.
My father lived in Sweden since he was 29 years old where he was granted permanent residency. Even though he flee Bahrain to Sweden in 1986 amid the uprising that took place back then, he always dreamt of returning back to his country, one day.
All of my family including my mother, four brothers and I were granted the Swedish citizenship. I, along with three of my brothers were born there. We, yet, returned to Bahrain in 2001 when Bahrain opened its doors back in the face of exiled Bahrainis, accompanying the so-called reform, that could not last for long, as we realize now.
In early 2011, inspired by the widespread “Arab Spring” movements in countries across the Middle East, the people in the small island of Bahrain rose up in a series of protests against the ruling family. Within months, most of the demonstrations were violently broken up by government forces. Dozens of protesters were killed and thousands were jailed.
Here, my father who was heading a teaching institution got arrested for the first time and released five months later after continues advocacy, which I carried along with other human rights activists and the great support of different international human rights organizations, the Swedish consulate in Bahrain and the Swedish embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Two years later, in 2014, I still remember that night. It flashes clearly in front of my eyes.
It was the night when my father got kidnapped again by masked security forces in plain clothes after raiding his house while he was there by himself. I was not home.
They successfully could implant a weapon under a table in the living room, claiming it was his.
He was then taken to the notorious “torture chamber- as we human rights activists like to call it”, the Criminal Investigation Directorate CID, where he was forced to sign on false confessions after threatening him to abuse me, his only daughter.
From that very moment, he has been put behind prison bars. For something I know my father will never think of, rather than do.
Conditions where he is detained since then are appalling. My father is subjected to mistreatment and abuse by police officers, which forced him to go on several hunger strikes. His latest one lasted for twenty-two days. His health dramatically deteriorated from already several health setbacks, while experiencing multiple blood clots in his arms.
These medical setbacks even developed amid complete medical negligence.
In the last recent weeks, as winter approached, I tried to send him few winter clothing through the prison’s office. Shockingly, I was asked who the clothes were for and I replied, the officer directly yelled “Then it is a No! you are not allowed to!”.
This can tell me how my father is being treated inside that prison cell.
Our weekly call that only lasts for 10 minutes experience repeated interruptions and strange signal fluctuations indeed. Those few minutes with my father are monitored and interrupted purposely.
For the past 16 months I have been denied to touch, hug and feel the warmth of my father’s hands. Every week in our 25-minutes visit inside prison, he is sat behind a glass barrier, where our only connection is by placing our hands against each other behind the glass and wish we could feel the touch.
A scene I only witnessed in movies but never thought it could ever happen to me! And it happened.
My father can face 15 years of imprisonment according to his lawyer for the charge of possessing a gun intended for terrorist activities. That very-implanted gun, yes.
In a recent piece for Huffington Post, Director of Human Rights First’s Human Rights Defenders Program, Brian Dooley, notes that this type of allegation follows a familiar script:
“Al Halwachi says the weapon that he was arrested for possessing — a Kalashnikov rifle — was planted. The Bahraini security forces certainly have a previous record of doing this. I was in court at the famous trial of 20 medics in 2012 when the prosecution showed video “evidence” of police discovering similar guns they claimed were hidden in ceiling tiles in Bahrain’s main hospital. The time codes embedded in the video showed the film was from days after the police claimed to have uncovered the weapons. Credible evidence is often irrelevant to trials in Bahrain”.
It is agonizing. Not a day goes by for me without thinking of my father and working for his release. Sometimes it is hard to believe that the very same figure who inspired me to advocate for others is now the very object of my human rights advocacy.
My father is a teacher, not a terrorist. He teaches different subjects: math, science, and Arabic.
I hereby as a Swedish born and raised citizen with all hope plea for your urgent and strong interference, as it is highly needed, for it have been mostly proven to be effective. I urge you to help my family reunite and come together the same way we always been in Sweden. Your help and efforts would be of most help and highly appreciated.
I shall never stop struggling until I gain his freedom. I truly miss him.
It was my birthday, my father made me hand-made birthday gifts from inside his prison cell. He had been telling me about them for some time. I did not receive them. Prison guards did not allow that.
In my rest times, when I put my head back, I sometimes think how those cards look? Are they white with bits of fresh colors as my father’s heart? Or are they shady grey as the sky of my country?
January 20, 2016