BJDM: What are the human rights organizations doing to prevent the media blackout?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: I do admit that this is a great challenge. Most of the Arab media are owned by Gulf monarchies, like Dubai and KSA and the other Arab media are owned by governments who completely support the Bahraini government. I am not optimistic with the Arab media. This will not change, not even in the next coming 10 years. The Arab media will never cover our struggle for democracy, that’s why we are working on the western media. I am contacting German newspaper to push them to speak out about Bahrain, all the Bahraini activists are working in the same strategy in the countries they reside in. We are also very active on social media, although I am not living anymore in Bahrain, I still tweet. This is a challenge. We have to tell people what is going on in Bahrain. I usually retweet photos about the struggles in Bahrain. I think that we as Bahraini activists have succeeded in bringing the Bahraini case to the media. We are now challenging to get more attention from the Western media. We are seeking to make the western media cover the Bahraini situation on weekly basis and not only in special events, as it was the case when Sheikh Salman ran for FIFA presidency. The situation in Bahrain can’t be compared to Syria or Yemen, but still there are massive human rights abuses in Bahrain and the media should speak out. Even when it comes to percentage, Bahrain is the highest country in terms of political prisoners per capita. Prisoners in Bahrain exceed those in Israel.
BJDM: The Bahraini issue is present in the German newspapers, to what extent this affect making decisions in Germany?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: I think it is step by step. Until now there is no action from the government. There are some German Members of Parliament who wrote about the case. I think you have to start with the media first, and then when the MPs see that Bahrain is present in the newspapers, they will be encouraged to speak out. I think it is important to create awareness at the youth, academic and political community. If you create awareness, this encourages the media and eventually MPs will see the news. The MPs have absolute power in Germany. That’s why we aim at targeting media and then the MPs and then we reach the government. We have succeeded in making the Bahraini case reach a large number of the MPs and we will continue to contact them. However, this needs more time and support from groups to push on the MPs to be more supportive.
BJDM: How do you see the situation of stateless Bahrainis amid the refugee crisis? Why is the UN addressing the problem of the Syrian refugees more than the stateless Bahrainis?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: There is huge number of refugees coming from Syria and Iraq. I think that this is understandable. I also think that the statement of Prince Ra’ad will have some effects. I am optimistic that the UN will speak more and give more attention to the stateless Bahrainis, especially that Bahraini are unfairly stripped of the citizenships. In addition, the number of stateless Bahrainis is increasing day after another; the number has reached about 300. It is clear that it is a political prosecution against people, opposition and human rights defenders. I think that it is our responsibility as human rights group to create awareness and contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to tell them about the stateless Bahrainis, even if the office of human rights is aware. We can’t get them same attention as other refugees because of the numbers, but we are working on bringing the case of stateless Bahrainis to light.
BJDM: Do you think that the terrorist blasts will affect the view of the western countries with respect to the Bahraini case?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: No. I think there will only be more restrictions on Arabs and Muslims living in Europe, but the governments will not change their position towards supporting democracy in any country. This is what I am witnessing as an Arab and Muslim citizen living in Europe; this is my view as a resident and not as human right activist. There are a lot of calls from Nazis groups or from right-wingers, especially in France, Berlin and Copenhagen, to impose more restrictions on refugees. The European governments are deporting anyone who does not deserve the right of asylum. Some countries witnessed attacks against refugees’ camps, in France and in Germany; some extremist people threw Molotov cocktails against the camps. The governments’ stances will not change in regards to the Bahraini case, at least when it comes to human rights and politics.
BJDM: We have recently seen that the UK is training Bahrainis to use snipers and that the US is still exporting arms to Bahrain, although both states know that Bahrain uses these techniques to suppress citizens and violate human rights. What do human rights organizations do to stop such acts?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: The human rights work should continue and not stop at any time. Britain is treating Bahrain as a strategic alliance and will continue to support Bahrain. Even when it comes to the statements of the human rights organizations; Sayed Ahmed Al-Wedai from BIRD met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Philip Hammond and showed him Amnesty reports that included the human rights violations. However, Hammond said that they have their own human rights reports. He did not want to admit what amnesty said. This shows that US has strategic interest with Bahrain and it pays no attention to human rights organizations. Politics comes before human rights in such countries. This will not frustrate us; our challenge is to proceed in our struggle and advocacy work.
BJDM: How is politics linked to Human Rights?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: We, as Bahrainis, started our struggle in order to achieve our political and civil rights. However, when we called for our legitimate rights, the authorities started to violate human rights. I think that our civil and political demands triggered the authorities that responded violently. Politics and human rights are interrelated; one can’t be achieved without the other.