Maryam Alkhawaja during BBC interview
|Born||Maryam Abdulhadi Alkhawaja
June 26, 1987
|Residence||Denmark (Self-enforced exile for safety)|
|Education||University of Bahrain BA in English Literature and American Studies|
|Occupation||Human rights defender|
Maryam Abdulhadi al-Khawaja (Arabic: مريم عبد الهادي الخواجة, b. 26 June 1987) is a Bahraini human rights activist. She is the daughter of the Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and head of the foreign relations office and vice president for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. She has been the acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights since Nabeel Rajab was arrested.
Maryam was born in Syria to Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who had been banned from Bahrain since the mid-1980s and Khadija Almousawi. At the age of two her family was able to get political asylum in Denmark. They lived there until 2001, when they were allowed re-entry into Bahrain.
After graduating from the University of Bahrain in 2009, Maryam al-Khawaja spent a year in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship at Brown University. When she returned to Bahrain in mid-2010, however, she was unable to find work in public relations or education due to her father's reputation as a government critic. Instead she joined the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, co-founded by her father, where she headed the foreign relations office and became vice president, serving as acting president during BCHR's president, Nabeel Rajab periods of detention.
On 22 June 2011, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Maryam’s father, was sentenced to life imprisonment in a military court on the charge of "organizing and managing a terrorist organization" for his role in the pro-democracy 2011-2012 Bahraini uprising.
Human rights activism
Maryam Alkhawaja was active in participating in protests and volunteering for human rights organizations since she was a young teenager. She also worked as a fixer and translator for journalists who came to Bahrain to report on the situation there. In 2006, Maryam was part of the delegation that went to the UN building in New York and met with the Secretary-General’s assistant to hand over the mass petition of demanding that the Prime Minister resign, due to his human rights violations. In 2008, Maryam was invited by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to testify at US Congress about religious freedom in Bahrain. The government led a smear campaign in the media against the group of activists that spoke at this session including Maryam, and their case was adopted by organizations such as Frontline, OMCT and FIDH.
Involvement in the Bahraini uprising
After attending the early pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011, Maryam al-Khawaja embarked on an overseas speaking tour at colleges and conferences. During this tour, she held meetings with UK politicians, and spoke to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. With Nabeel Rajab prevented from leaving Bahrain, problems of access for the external media and at least 500 leading members of the opposition detained, Maryam al-Khawaja assumed a prominent public role outside Bahrain. According to Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, BCHR recommended that she stay abroad given the likelihood of arrest if she returned.
In April, al-Khawaja participated in the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, where she was able to speak to Secreatary of State Hillary Clinton and tell the story of her father and two brothers in-law arrest. She implored Clinton for the United States to take a stronger stance against the oppression in Bahrain, and cited the Bahraini government's use of American weapons to suppress the protesters, as a reason for the United States to do. In May, she spoke to the Oslo Freedom Forum about her experiences with government violence in Bahrain. On 13 May, she gave evidence to a U.S. Congress hearing on Human Rights in Bahrain.
Before the Bahraini uprising, al-Khawaja was not active on Twitter, with no more than 30 followers. As of 15 June, she has more than 65,000 followers and had sent more than 18,000 tweets, providing real-time coverage of various protests oft overlooked by many formal news agencies. As demonstrators flooded the streets, she stayed for days on end in Manama's Pearl Roundabout actively tweeting.
Threats and harassment
Maryam al-Khawaja has faced internet harassment from regime supporters. She did not attend an IFEX in Lebanon in early June after receiving death threats. Immediately after her speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum (streamed live online) a Twitter campaign began, accusing her of spreading false news, being a radical and working for the Iranian government. Many messages accusing Maryam of being a "traitor" for Bahrain were sent to the email account of Oslo Freedom Forum. Much of the tweeting, blogging and online harassment has originated in the U.S., inside the Geo-Political Solutions division of Qorvis Communications. The campaign has also included apparently organized heckling.
- Staff writer (May 2011). "Maryam Al-Khawaja". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Karen Leigh (29 June 2011). "The Atlantic: Exiled and 24: The Young Woman Fighting for Bahrain". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
- Chulov, Martin (22 June 2011). "Bahrain rights activists jailed for life". Online Article (London: Guardian). Retrieved 2012-02-16.
- Courtney C. Radsch (28 July 2011). "Bahrain's Young Women Keep the Revolution Aloud". Women's eNews. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- "2011 Participants", U.S. - Islamic World Forum, April 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Maryam al-Khawaja speaks to Secretary Clinton at the US Islamic World Forum. U.S.: YouTube. 13 April 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Thor Halvorssen (19 May 2011). "PR Mercenaries, Their Dictator Masters, and the Human Rights Stain". Huffpost. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- "POMED Notes: “Human Rights in Bahrain”", Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, 13 May 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- "HEARING NOTICE: HUMAN RIGHTS IN BAHRAIN", Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, 13 May 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Maryam Alkhawaja (2 May 2012). "MARYAMALKHAWAJA". Twitter. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- "IFEX calls on Bahrain's rulers to end detention and torture of those jailed solely for peacefully expressing themselves". International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 28 June 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- "Slandering campaign against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja - BHR 008 / 0611 / OBS 097". FIDH. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012.