The case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the Bahraini—Danish freedom activist who is serving a life sentence, is both encouraging and frightening.
For decades, Bahrainis – and populations in other states in the Middle East – have had every reason to rebel in order to achieve democracy and political freedom.
But in the commotion resulting from violence, terrorism and an abundance of wars in the region, there has been a tendency to think that prevailing dictatorships and the lack of political responsibility in most Arab states, is a stabilising and popularly accepted state of affairs.
Now we know that this is an illusion.
One may ask why the Khawaja story is an encouraging one. It is inspiring because a courageous and non-violent al-Khawaja has put himself in the vanguard of a population’s demand to choose their own government. This in a state in which the Khalifa royal family has, since the country’s independence, seen its right to rule as inherent.
But it is also a frightening story. It is alarming because al-Khawaja is living testimony of the price that too many supporters of democracy must pay in the Arab world. He has not only been sentenced for a political transgression, but has also had to suffer torture.
Irrespective of these abuses, he has maintained his dignified defence of the right to freedom.
For these reasons, al-Khawaja is an obvious recipient of the Politiken Freedom Prize 2012, which one of his daughters will receive on his behalf.
Al-Khawaja’s case is also a challenge for Danish and European foreign policy. His Danish passport means that he is encompassed by the European Union’s duty to protect its citizens.
The Danish foreign service has been persistent in its efforts to have al-Khawaja released for treatment at a Danish hospital as a result of the effects of his hunger strike earlier this year and the torture that has been meted out to him. Bahrain’s foreign minister promised to hand him over on March 14, but outrageously went back on his promise.
Al-Khawaja made the sensible choice of threatening to live rather than threatening to take his own life. This has left both al-Khawaja and the EU in the complicated situation that the political pressure to have him released has waned – despite the fact that both the need and grounds for his release remain unchanged.
Al-Khawaja still needs hospital treatment following his torture in Bahrain. And he remains imprisoned for a political crime.
His compatriots remain under censorship, are subject to political and religious discrimination, are banned from demonstrating and remain unable to bring their rulers to justice.
They too have a right to the political freedoms for which al-Khawaja is such an inspiring advocate.
FACEBOOK – Follow Politiken’s News in English
Translated by Julian Isherwood