Asma is the Head of Information and Media Relations at the European and a human rights blogger. She is a proficient speaker in Arabic, English and Farsi. She has close relations with different media platforms and is engaged with international media personnel. Asma has participated in many conferences, seminars and workshops concerning information, media relations and human rights.
She is a former detainee and went on a hunger strike for 12 days that ended with her arrest when campaigning for her jailed brother, uncle & cousin. Most of her family members were arrested and tortured.
Follow Asma on Twitter @eagertobefree
She kindly agreed to be interviewed by Clarion Project's Research Fellow Elliot Friedland.
Clarion Project: What is the single greatest human rights challenge in Bahrain today?
Asma Darwish: This is a very interesting question!
The human rights situation in Bahrain is regrettably in degradation mode. It has come across lots of challenges. The most important ones are: discrimination, impunity, and a deficit of democracy. This last one is driving the degradation. Not to mention weak institutions and the circumvention of local & international laws. Nonetheless, the democracy deficits, in my opinion, is with no doubt the driver behind the degradation.
Clarion: In 2011 Saudi troops brutally put down demonstrations in Bahrain. What is left of the human rights movement there?
Darwish: It is amazing how the human rights movement still exists in Bahrain despite all the actions that have been taken by the government and its alliances! In fact, the number of human rights defenders have increased noticeably since February 2011, maintaining a steady upward trajectory. This is attributed to the explicit military and political intervention by the Kingdom Saudi Arabia (KSA). You can notice the increased number of human rights organizations since Saudi troops 'invaded' Bahrain as well. The culture of how important it is to defend human rights has spread.People have realized the vital role human rights can play.
Clarion: Human rights organizations and other NGOs face many restrictions. How does your organization continue its work despite this?
Darwish: It is always a challenge to continue working in such an environment. Possibly the advantage our organization in particualr has is the diversity of its team top down; and the presence of our members, contacts and the influences outside the territory of the country. This has assisted us to continue its work actively; even during the times when the General Secretary was placed under arrest by Bahraini authorities. I guess the human right organizations would work better under pressure & under lots of restrictions! This proves how established they are and how necessary it is to have them!
Clarion: To what extent do sectarian divisions between the Sunnis and Shiite play a role in tensions in the country?
Darwish: This sectarianism is the regime's seed that was planted to divide the people. This is the most powerful mechanism that the regime has been using since February 2011. It has been for the benefit of the regime to demonstrate that what is happening is not a call for democracy, freedom & human rights yet because it has been the Shia'a (who happened to be the majority) who have called for rights as opposed to Sunni (the minority in Bahrain). I would emphasize that if any 'tension' is seen then it is because the government continues igniting this issue.
Clarion: Is positive change happening in Bahrain?
Darwish: I can not envisage that any observer would suggest the possibility that change is happening.
The regime has no will at all to take any remedial actions. It is not proposing any clear & transparent steps towards bringing an end to such bad situation. I am back to my earlier point; we are stuck in degradation mode in which many human rights activists and defenders have been arrested. Mariam Al Khawaja is a live example. She is a dual Bahraini-Danish citizen who was arrested immediately att he airport when she went to visiti her sick father, himself a political prisoner for organizing protests against the regime. The trials of human rights activists are a constantly over our heads; the General Secretary of our organization is still facing the threat of a trial which has been postponed to Oct 2015. To summarize, no positive signs at all.
Clarion: How can people living far from the region (most of our readers live in the States) help the situation in Bahrain?
Darwish: We envisage many ways to help. A key principle of the human rights movement is its appeal to universality: the idea that all human beings should struggle in solidarity for a common set of basic conditions. So, one way of helping us in Bahrain is by imposing pressure on western governments. Being in a close alliance does not allow the country to ignore the human rights. Carrying out campaigns would definitely help. Media coverage is also crucial. It is also important to apply the principle of non-impunity and one way is by prosecuting violators of human rights no matter where they are.