RN call for a Damascus-Manama joint nonviolent action against sectarian governmental repression: Freedom for Khawaja and all prisoners of opinion


This is a call on the opposition in Bahrain and in Syria to organize joint nonviolent action around the commonalty of their struggle for the liberation of the hundreds of prisoners now in jail for no reason other than expressing their opinion.

Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is one of us. He must be released immediately, as must all prisoners of opinion, about 700 of them in Bahrain, and we support the active involvement of the Danish government in saving Khawaja’s life. The Bahraini authorities are certainly aware that the death of Khawaja, a symbol of nonviolent resistance to dictatorship in the Middle East, would entail consequences of a criminal nature for his jailers and those under whom the command to detain a prisoner of opinion is being carried out. His continued detention under conditions that violate humanitarian and human rights law also entail serious legal consequences that demand due diligence: the government of Bahrain is responsible for the active protection of its citizens, and has committed to fulfill the recommendations of the Bassiouni Commission. The deterioration of Khawaja’s health is a breach of this due diligence under the law and flies in the face of this solemn commitment.

In a Middle East full of government violence, the Bahraini and Syrian crises constitute today a central test for the success of the Middle East nonviolent revolution.  Obstinate and unconscionable rulers are fomenting religious strife in both countries, and fan the flames of the Sunni-Shi‘i divide to drown the massive demand for change by increasing sectarian repression.

We therefore call upon our colleagues and friends in Damascus and Manama to hold high a common banner, in their next demonstrations, against the religious divide encouraged by authoritarian governments to undermine the message of Syrian and Bahraini prisoners of opinion — hundreds in Bahrain and thousands in Syria — for whom Abdel Hadi Al Khawaja now stands as symbol.

We believe that the Bahraini crisis, similar to that in Syria, has reached breaking point. The King of Bahrain must face up to his responsibilities. The slow and determined transformation of a nonviolent revolution into sectarian strife since he called in the Saudi invasion in March 2011 is his immediate responsibility, as has been Asad’s refusal to step down and allow the political process to begin unimpeded by his dictatorship in Damascus.

We make this distinction. In the case of Asad, there is no turning back. Too many innocent, nonviolent Syrians have been killed. He must be forced to leave and face trial. In Bahrain, advocates of serious reform around the Crown Prince must be made to prevail. They have been defeated so far by a callous government, and Khawaja’s survival and freedom are key to preventing the dominance of an unbridled sectarian strife.

We will work with defenders of democracy the world over to support and help Bahrainis and Syrians actively in this crucial hour of their common destiny.

RN Signatories 

Sadek Jalal al-Azm is the leading public intellectual of Syria and emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Damascus. John Borneman is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton and an expert on Syria and on transitional justice. John Donohue sj is a scholar of the modern and classical Middle East. Ishac Diwan is an economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Deena Hurwitz is a Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Jane Mansbridge is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School. Chibli Mallat is a Lebanese lawyer and law professor. Eman Shaker is a Syrian writer and human rights activist. YANG Jianli is a leading Chinese dissident and the president of Initiatives for China. This call is an initiative of Right to Nonviolence, an international NGO based in the Middle East.

Arabic version

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