Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2011 (August 4, 2011)

Hunger Strike for Human Rights in Bahrain

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July 22, 2011

Though half a world away, Beloit was never far-removed from the protests and revolutions that spread across the Middle East this spring. The campus community especially kept a close eye on Bahrain, where Zainab al-Khawaja’07 went on a hunger strike to protest the detainment of her family members.

In mid-April, reports of al-Khawaja’s protest surfaced in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian. al-Khawaja told the paper that Bahraini government forces stormed her family’s home, beat her father—prominent human-rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja—until he was unconscious, and arrested him, her brother-in-law, and her husband.

On her blog, Angry Arabiya, she wrote: “Security forces attacked my home, broke our doors with sledgehammers … Without any warning, without an arrest warrant and without giving any reasons; armed, masked men attacked my father. We all know that my father’s crime is being a human rights activist.”

The alumna went on a hunger strike and documented her protest on Twitter, using the handle @angryarabiya.

Her efforts to draw attention to her family’s plight rallied fellow Beloiters. “The Beloit College community response was hearteningly strong, with over 200 students, faculty, staff, and alumni joining for a solidarity fast on April 22,” says Beloit College Spiritual Life Director Bill Conover. A Facebook group set up by Beloit supporters garnered more than 500 members.

After 10 days, the 27-year-old mother told The Guardian that she ended her fast because she was convinced that “being silent in a tomb and not able to speak is not in the interests of my family.”

At the beginning of June, with her father, brother-in-law, and husband still in prison, she was summoned to a Bahraini police station. To her supporters’ relief, she was released the same day, though police forcibly removed her and other protestors from the Bahraini U.N. headquarters June 15.

The New York Times reported in late June that a special military court in Bahrain had sentenced al-Khawaja’s father to life in prison for what the state news agency described as “plotting to topple the government” during demonstrations earlier this year.

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