Bahraini blogger, political activist, and Global Voices author Ali Abdulemam, who had been living in hiding in Bahrain for two years, appeared in London in early May, where he has been granted political asylum by the British government. The founder of BahrainOnline.org, a leading website for political expression and opposition in the Gulf state, Abdulemam was an active organizer of uprisings in the country in 2011. While in hiding, he was tried in absentia by a military court and found guilty of charges related to terrorism and subversion. Readers can learn more about these issues through Global Voices’ Special Coverage of protests and human rights threats in Bahrain.
Global Voices Advocacy Director Hisham Almiraat interviewed Abdulemam in Oslo, shortly after his escape from the island nation.
Hisham Almiraat: Tell us your story in your words.
Ali Abdulemam: How did I get out? I don't want to talk about it because I still need to protect the people who helped me, who hosted me, so I prefer not to talk about this and instead [to] focus on the situation in Bahrain. This is what matters — now I'm free, I'm safe, but the people in Bahrain are still struggling with this [tyrannous] regime. What we all need is to help people in Bahrain get their universal rights. This is what matters. To expose this regime, to understand that it's not any more the Middle Ages, it's the 21st century where everything is open and the exchange of information is available everywhere.
HA: Can you say a word about the situation right now in Bahrain and what happens with activists who are there, who are struggling for their rights? How is the situation? Is it getting worse? Is it getting better?
AA: The situation is not developing…attacks on peaceful demonstrations continue. There is no moving forward for reforming, or giving the people their universal rights, there [are] no individual rights, there is no freedom of speech, there is no free press. So the situation is just like a state living 200 years back. The activists [are] struggling with this regime…they cannot move freely, they cannot speak freely, they cannot report what they see. Because [of] the law in Bahrain, the government can do [any]thing to change even a tweet to a criminal offense. But what you can see in the activists and the people in Bahrain is that they have…hope that they can bring change and they have an amount of dignity that no one can take. That's what makes you be sure that the change is coming from the hands of these youth.
HA: So you think that the actions of the government instead of breaking the spirit of the Bahraini activists and pro-democracy activists has encouraged them and injected more hope in their community?
AA: I believe the regime failed to reproduce fear inside the people. What the other Arab regimes continue to do in other regions the Bahrain government failed to deliver it to its people. People now, they are not afraid and they believe they are right. No one can break them. And instead as you say, instead of breaking them, it's just making them more and more believe that change is more necessary now than any other time. There is [a] point that everybody should understand: This generation is totally different than any other generation that Bahrain [has seen]. Most generations broke within 2-3 months or 2-3 years. This generation is unbreakable. So if the regime wants this battle to take such a long time, let it be, but I'm convinced that they will not give up until they make the change that they want.
HA: Do you think that the international support you had during your time in hiding within Bahrain, do you think that that support has helped your cause and the cause of pro-democracy activists in Bahrain?
AA: Yeah for sure, it's clear that the support that I got from NGOs especially help[ed] a lot in protecting other activists. [It's] clear now that they attacked me, they jailed me, they sentenced me to fifteen years….I wanna just mention something: During my hiding, yes the support from the NGOs had some effect on the government, but the big effect was on me personally, that they still remember[ed] me, that they [wrote] about me, so this cheer[ed] me up and the feeling that whatever I was doing wasn't wrong, that there are people who believe in me, even with the amount of attack by the regime. But still the officials of the NGOs believing that I'm innocent and that all the accusations by the government [were] not true. The effect on me personally was so high.
HA: What do you think should be done now that you are free? What do you think should be done now by NGOs and international supporters with regard to the situation in Bahrain? Would you have a word of advice for those international organizations or those individuals who are trying to help?
AA: The first thing I think anybody who wants to work for Bahrain people [should know], [is that] you shouldn't see them as Sunni or Shiite or something. They are human. They need basic human rights. What [is] mentioned in the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights — we want it in Bahrain. We want equal citizenship, we don't want second class or third class citizenship. So anyone who wants to work for Bahrain, let me just look at them as a human being. And for the NGOs — because, I met with some NGOs, and they were kind of [saying] you have to decrease your demands [in order] for resolution to happen in Bahrain. Well, I believe that it's not my mistake if my universal rights [have] been stolen by the regime, that I should give it to the regime just for the safety and security of the state. I believe that to secure our country for the long term, it's better to have our rights completely without any [restriction]… In short, we are human, regardless of our [faith], and our demands [are] our universal human rights.
HA: And finally, would you have a word for the Global Voices community?
AA: Yes, Global Voices helped me so much and kept me remembered by the online activists in the community. I really thank them all. They were really true friends. I would really thank god for letting me work with them once and I'm always thanking my god for all these good friends including Global Voices. I love their work, I was following their website to know what's going on and I just wanted to say that your work…cheered me up and [made] my spirits so high, when I hear that you talk[ed] to this NGO or that EU member, thank you so much for all that you did for me.
HA: Thank you, Ali.
Previous Global Voices coverage of Ali Abdulemam: