I am almost three weeks into a hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy in Knightsbridge, London. I’m doing it to save my imprisoned father.
Hassan Mushaima, is a 70 year-old political prisoner and opposition leader. He is currently being denied access to vital medical care, family visits and books. I asked my father for his thoughts on the motive behind these punitive measures. He replied: ‘They are trying to kill me. Slowly, but surely.’
Sadly, it is not uncommon for the Bahraini regime to kill members of my family. My cousin was the first person killed by Bahrain’s riot police in the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in 2011. Another relative, Sami, was locked in the same prison as my father last year and executed by firing squad. The UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Agnes Callamard, condemned his execution. These deaths are the price our family has paid for demanding democracy in the smallest Gulf kingdom.
My father, a survivor of lymphatic cancer, still has no idea whether his cancer has returned as he is being denied screenings. He must receive these check-ups every six months; he was last screened in September 2016. My family has not even been allowed to visit him since February 2017. His books, personal notes, and writing materials were confiscated almost a year ago.
Even if they were to allow him visitors, there is no way I could see him. In 2012 my citizenship was revoked. I am resident in the UK, but I am stateless.
All I demand is the provision of his basic rights. Fortunately, my hunger strike has helped alleviate some of my father’s suffering. He received all his prescribed medication ten days into my protest. My demands had fallen on deaf ears until I went on hunger strike to draw attention to the actions of the Bahraini authorities.
22 days ago, I left my beloved wife and four-month old daughter at home to camp outside the Bahrain embassy. In the last two weeks, I have lost eight kilos. My body is weak, but my determination grows.
The regime has continued in its attempts to silence me. In the early hours of Sunday morning, someone from the embassy threw vast amounts of a foamy liquid from the Ambassador’s balcony while I was asleep on the pavement below. At first I feared it was an acid attack. I reported it to the police, with enquiries ongoing. This wasn’t behind closed doors, it was on the streets of London, for everyone to see.
The fact that Bahraini authorities are happy to take such intimidatory measures against a free man is shocking enough. I cannot imagine what officers have done to my father, behind closed doors, following his arrest for leading a movement against the Bahraini dictatorship during the Arab Spring.
While my protest seeks to improve my father’s treatment, I also want to make a statement to the Foreign Office: the UK government has trained the prison authorities and police officers that perpetrated my father’s suffering. Over £5 million of public money has been given to the regime for programmes that are meant to improve the justice system. In that time the human rights situation has only got worse.
The UK is supposed to have trained Bahrain how to treat it prisoners. And yet see what they have done to my father. His ordeal is inherently tainted by UK complicity.
Minister Alistair Burt encouraged me to seek recourse from Bahraini oversight bodies. These bodies have only made matters worse, as they recently released a statement, echoing the narrative of the abuser, without even paying my father a visit. Those ineffective oversight bodies are part of the problem, not the solution.
If Burt and his colleagues have an influence in the corridors of power in Bahrain then they must use it before it is too late. They UK must take responsibility for their unfaltering support for the regime.
We are always being told that the UK stands for human rights around the world, but its support for the Al Khalifa dictatorship in my home country shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
I therefore ask Ministers in Whitehall: what more should I sacrifice to ensure that my father is treated with humanity? Will you wait until his death before you decide to act?