Last week, almost two years after being imprisoned as part of Bahrain's crackdown on activists, a Bahraini human rights advocate named Abdulhadi al-Khawaja began a "dry" hunger strike, meaning that he would consume neither foods nor liquids. On Sunday, his daughter Zainab, a fellow activist and young mother who was arrested in late 2012, began her own dry hunger strike. Fatima Haji, one of 20 Bahraini physicians who had been imprisoned and tortured for aiding pro-democracy protesters, warned at the time that she risked organ failure or death.
In the clip above, Maryam al-Khawaja, another daughter of Abdulhadi's, discusses her family's most recent travails in its long effort to pressure Bahrain's absolute monarchy to reform. The footage is from a regular HuffPost Live program hosted by Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a close observer of Bahrain's struggles since the Arab Spring began more than two years ago. Haji, the doctor who helped monitor Zainab al-Khawaja's health, also appears on the program.
It's difficult to imagine what it must be like for Maryam al-Khawaja, who as of 2011 was only 24 but already leading her father's NGO in his absence, to to be asked so frequently to comment on her father's and sister's health. She has spent most of the past two years out of Bahrain, effectively exiled, save for a short trip back last month, as she travels the world to find outside support. As the protests that began in Bahrain in 2011 have dragged into an increasingly bitter struggle, with the Khawajas often among the most visible proponents of reform and victims of police abuse, Maryam has taken on the role of spokesperson for her family and for the Bahraini democracy movement it represents.
At one point in the interview, Maryam mentions without flinching that her older sister had begun coughing up blood because of her self-imposed thirst. Prison officials, she said, did not give her sister medical care, instead sending a guard to film her. Asked about her family's imprisonment, she pivots immediately to Bahrain's treatment of all activists, discussing its human rights practices as they effect the entire country rather than just the people to whom she's related.
Zainab, in an open letter published on Sunday, appealed directly to the United States, a close ally of Bahrain. She cited Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., asking Americans to reconsider their support for her country's monarchy. "As I marvel at his wisdom," she writes after quoting extensively from a 1967 King speech on U.S. foreign policy, "I wonder if America is also listening."
Abdulhadi had some water on Tuesday, his daughter Maryam reported during the interview. Since the interview, both Zainab and her father have reportedly resumed drinking water, although they are still refusing solid foods.