In April 2011, Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja, then 23 years old, was in the United States when her phone rang. Back in Bahrain, a government crackdown on the massive prodemocracy uprising was proceeding at a ferocious pace. On the line was Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “Maryam,” he said. “I need you to write this down, it’s very important.” Maryam grabbed a pen and paper while Rajab launched into a graphic description of a man who had just been arrested and tortured by the county’s security forces. His jawbone was broken and his face so disfigured that his friends were unable to recognize him. Maryam wrote down every detail.
“Oh,” Rajab said at the end of the call, “And write that his name is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.” The tortured man was Maryam’s father.
Maryam’s family had staked everything on the struggle for democracy in Bahrain for as long as she could remember. She had learned to be tough in moments like this one.
She turned to her laptop, opened her email, and wrote an urgent news release about her father’s torture as if he were any other political prisoner. “As a human rights defender, we depersonalize the cases,” she said.