FAMILY, LAWYER AND DIPLOMATS DENIED ACCESS TO ALKHAWAJA – IS HE STILL ALIVE?:
TIMELINE – 26th APRIL 2012 10.15 GMT:
Today, Thursday, would be the 78th day of Abdulhadi AlKhawaja’s “Freedom or Death” hunger strike – if he is still alive. 75 days is normally the limit for surviving without sustenance and AlKhawaja told his family he would even stop drinking water last Sunday.
The Al-Khalifa Government currently has a news blackout on information around AlKhawaja and his family, his lawyer and the Danish Ambassador have all been prevented this week from speaking with him or making visits.
AlKhawaja’s wife says that she phoned the Bahrain Defence Force medical ward where he was being held on Wednesday after he failed to make his regular Tuesday call to her. A nurse is reported to have told her that his room and bed were empty.
Until a few days ago the Ministry of Interior was saying that he is still “in good health” but activists have reported a large increase in police checkpoints around Bahrain in the last 24 hours, which may indicate that some announcement to the contrary is imminent.
There also seems to have been an escalation in night time police raids on houses in the Shia villages and random arrests to “neutralise” those most likely to demonstrate. The village of Duraz was particularly targeted after an explosion there on Tuesday night injured 4 policemen following a fire inside a shop.
Ban Ki Moon, the UN General Secretary, the US State Department and the EU have all once again this week called on the Bahraini Government to use “every available option” to find resolution over the AlKhawaja case. It may be too late or he is in a coma.
Zainab AlKhawaja, his daughter, who was arrested last weekend for staging a protest sit-in in the middle of the road in the Financial Harbour district, has been remanded in custody for another 7 days.
Her sister, Maryam AlKhawaja, who acts as international spokeswoman for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, yesterday addressed the EU Parliament in clear, forthright terms about the poor state of human rights, not just in Bahrain, but throughout the Gulf.
You can hear hear her articulate testimony in this video report, HERE:
In response to requests to the Ministry of Interior for information about AlKhawaja by the media, the Ministry merely says that people should “watch its Twitter feed”. There was no relevant information from that source yesterday.
In the meantime, we can only wait and hope that somehow AlKhawaja is still alive.
EDITOR: For the Ministry of Interior to deny his family information and access is beyond cruel – but then little surprises me from this lying and despicable regime.
– 6/5/11 Peter Clifford –
THE LAST ABSOLUTE MONARCH IN AFRICA:
While pro-democracy demonstrations and battles continue around the world, notably in Syria, Yemen and Libya at the current time, protests in a small country in southern Africa against suppression and autocratic rule seem to have gone largely unnoticed.
Swaziland is a tiny kingdom, just 6,704 square miles in area and with a population of 1.2 million, surrounded by South Africa on three sides and with a northern eastern border against Mozambique.
While South Africa and Mozambique (both of which I have visited several times) have had their problems, and still have some, noticeably corruption, their elections are generally considered free and fair.
In Swaziland, all power ultimately lies in the hands of King Mswati lll who rules by royal degree and says his county “is not yet ready for multi-party politics”.
Quite why he says this becomes clear when you discover that he lives a very privileged lifestyle in royal palaces with 14 wives (yes, 14, that is not a misprint!), twenty children and a fleet of expensive cars. He did back down however when there were protests about him buying a private jet.
How considerate! – while meanwhile 40% of his population are unemployed, more than 25% are HIV positive (the highest rate in the world), 63% earn less than $1.25 a day and 80% less than $2 (USAID 2010).
Life expectancy is just 50 years for men and only 48 years for women according to the UN (appalling when compared with over 77 years for men and over 80 years for women in the UK).
The King’s net wealth is estimated at $100 million and he has trusteeship of a $10 billion dollar fund. The extreme wealth therefore of just one person skews the Gross National Income per capita to an average of $2,470 per person.
As a result, the World Bank classifies Swaziland as “lower middle income”, thereby disqualifying it from a whole host of useful foreign aid partnership programmes and denying the poorest in its society the urgent help that they need.
During the recent world economic crisis Swaziland’s economy has more or less collapsed and what aid there is has been withheld because of concerns about corruption.
Just to add to the obscenity of this situation, King Mswati recently attended the Royal Wedding celebrations of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London, reputedly staying for several days at one of the luxury hotels, either Claridges or The Dorchester, with an entourage of 50 at a minimum double room rate of £450 a night (does he book 14 doubles, one for each wife, I wonder?).
And far from being sympathetic to the problems of his population, in a debate in Parliament in 2000 he said HIV positive people should be “sterilised and branded”.
More recently, earlier this year, the Swazi government cut the salaries of its civil servants by 10% while approving an increase in the annual allowance for the King from $24 million to $30 million.
Mswati also manages to control the press and suppresses anything he doesn’t like. When a photograph of his new $500,000 car appeared in the media, he promptly banned all photography of royal vehicles.
Similarly, when he was cuckolded by his Justice Minister, a former friend (it must be so hard keeping track of 14 wives!), he placed his 22 year old wife under house arrest and prevented the newspapers from carrying the story (though the nearby South African media follows everything with great interest and in this particular case unrestrained glee).
This madness, sadly real, reminds me of a Terry Jones fairy story for children called “Touch The Moon”. The king in the story becomes totally obsessed with building a tower so high that if he stands on tiptoe he can touch the moon.
In the process of trying to achieve this mad desire the king demolishes half his capital city to make way for the tower, digs up the rest of the kingdom to quarry stone for it, impoverishes his people and almost kills his daughter, before he realises what a fool he has been.
While King Mswati may not be a bad person in himself, at the age of 43 and having been educated at Sherbourne School in Dorset in the UK, you would think he would have more sense than to endlessly squander his wealth in the faces of his impoverished people.
Presumably he is surrounded by a cluster of sycophantic ministers who, busy feathering their own nests, are not going to bring him into the real world and tell him the truth. He should be intelligent enough to know that the more you suppress people, the more you will build resistance.
No wonder then that for a country with such good exportable natural resources (coal, asbestos, sugar, wood pulp and crushed stone for roads) yet such high unemployment and 38% of the population under 14 years of age, the King’s heavy handed autocratic rule is at last being challenged.
On 12th April 2011, following strikes by trade unions in previous years which have gone unheeded, demonstrations erupted in Manzini, the commercial capital. Over 1,000 peaceful protesters, including many teachers, were subjected to water cannon and tear gas grenades.
The demonstration was timed to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the banning of all political parties by Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, and none have been allowed since. A number of opposition figures and students were arrested and mobile phones impounded by the police.
Since then things appear to have quietened down, but that is only on the surface as there has been virtually no response from the Government or King and certainly no indication of any inclination to change.
This will, of course, only add fuel to the fire, until finally this parasitic monarchy and government are swept away. A wiser monarch would invest in a free democratic system and remove himself from political control now. We won’t hold our breath!
I will leave the last word to Nelson Mandela: “Many of our traditional leaders are also not aware of the lessons of history. They do not seem to know that there were once absolute monarchs in the world who did not share power with their subjects ……… Had these monarchs clung stubbornly to their absolute powers they would long have disappeared from the scene.” Nelson Mandela “Conversations With Myself” (UK BOOKSTORE -“Conversations With Myself” – USA BOOKSTORE)
11/5/2011 NEWS UPDATE: Swaziland’s Finance Minister, Majozi Sithole, said on the radio today that Swaziland may not be able to pay its civil servants in June ………. I sense trouble ahead, especially as civil servants were in the vanguard of the demonstrations last month!
ROYAL WEDDING AFTERTHOUGHTS:
Like millions of others around the world I watched the Royal Wedding in London on TV recently and enjoyed it – a great spectacle which UK Plc does very well.
And while I wish the “royal couple” (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) a long and happy relationship – they look like a very nice pair together – I do have to wonder just what this “royal” thing is all about?
What does it mean to be “royal”? What it means in fact is that some people get to be born into the right family, at the right time and, if they are lucky in their timing, into a long life of privilege, power, wealth and luxury. (I admit one or two have literally lost their heads along the way, so it isn’t always a good deal!)
Apart from that, “being royal” doesn’t mean anything. It is all a grand illusion that the majority of us buy into and go along with.
While I would concede that a constitutional monarchy where the Head of State is completely separate from the politics of the day is extremely useful, other than that these people are exactly the same as the rest of us when it comes down to it – just the same but with posher accents! Though I am sure the majority of them would like to think otherwise.
And talking of the Royal Wedding, why was it that playboy despots like King Mswati (above) and the Libyan Ambassador ( the invitation later rescinded after protests) were invited while two former UK Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and their partners were excluded?
This exclusion of two people who have held the highest political office in the country struck me as rude, banal, unfair and stupid and smacks of the “ruling elite” (in their delusions of self importance) punishing those who may have offended them along the way.
Similarly, Sarah Ferguson was denied an invitation and had to watch her daughters attend with her former husband, the Duke of York on TV. How petty it all is!
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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2/5/11 Peter Clifford –
THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE:
As I have said a number of times, democracy is not a perfect system but when embraced by the vast majority of a country’s population it generally provides the best protection for a free parliamentary consensus where unpopular governments can be removed by popular vote.
All political systems are open to manipulation of course and democracy is no exception. Here in the UK, arguably the seat of democracy, virtually every major government to hold power has redrawn parliamentary boundaries in their favour (it’s called “legal gerrymandering”!), so that they increase the chances of the majority of the votes going to their own candidates at the next election.
Until now in the UK we have had a “first past the post” system at elections i.e. the party that wins an absolute majority of seats, over all other parties combined, even by one, gets to form the next government (even though it may not be supported by a majority of voters).
Combined with the “legal gerrymandering” mentioned above, this has meant that unpopular and sometimes incompetent governments get to stay in power for several 4 year terms and/or for much longer than they should.
It has also meant effectively that the same two big parties get to run the country in turn for long periods of time, swapping occasionally from side to side with much the same long term result – a promising start (usually lots of promises!), followed by years of stumbling, followed by more years of a government that long ago passed its “sell by date”.
It was refreshing then to see the last election in the UK in 2010 so close to call that no party ended up with an absolute majority and in the end David Cameron’s Conservatives entered into a coalition with the Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.
Many people in both parties were not happy with this as it involved a large number of reluctant compromises on each side; but compromise does have the advantage of modifying and preventing the worst extremes on the right or the left from dominating the agenda, and that, in my view, is all to the good.
Part of the coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was that the Government would look at an another voting system and put it to a national referendum. There are a number of different voting systems and some are clearly better than others, but it is definitely time for a change rather than no change at all.
On May 5th we have a national referendum (as well as voting in District and Parish elections) on whether we should adopt AV, The Alternative Vote, as our new system of democracy.
While it is still not an ideal system (probably nothing is), it at least ensures that the majority of people in any given constituency have some sort of preference for the elected candidate and everyone’s vote counts.
Under the current system of “first past the post”, two thirds of MPs elected in 2010 did not have the majority support of their constituents – in other words most people got the MP they did not want! This cannot be right and is profoundly undemocratic.
The following points make the case for AV:
IT’ IS TIME FOR A CHANGE FOR A MUCH FAIRER SYSTEM WHERE ALL OUR VOTES COUNT AND WE ARE NOT STUCK WITH THE MPs WE DEFINITELY DON’T WANT!
PLEASE VOTE “YES” TO AV, THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE, ON THURSDAY MAY 5TH 2011
And lastly, whatever the outcome of the vote, I was amused to see that the “Yes” and “No” AV campaigns produced some unlikely bedfellows.
The “rabid” Labour politician John Reid appeared on the same platform alongside “solidly conservative” David Cameron and the “scruffy gentleman” Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat) appeared alongside “learner Labour leader Mr Who?” Ed Miliband plus better known comedian Eddie Izzard.
We won’t see this lot agreeing very often, if ever, again!
AND THE END OF BIN LADEN:
Ironically, Osama Bin Laden, who was killed by US Special Forces yesterday, was the antithesis of democracy in any form and the prophet of rule by terror, control and suppression, all in the name of Allah/God.
Few in the world, other than his supporters, will mourn the passing of a man that was directly responsible for the killing of least 3,000 people and indirectly for many more through his followers and affiliate groups.
Oddly, the pictures of him always struck me as someone who had intelligence, with quite a kind face and soft brown eyes – but clearly his actions and fanaticism don’t bear that out.
Just shows what religious extremism (of any sort) can do when you can go through life justifying your actions in the name of any remote and ultimately unknowable god.
While I am glad that the hunt for Bin Laden is at an end, I felt slightly “sick” watching the “celebrations” at his reported death infront of the White House in Washington on TV. No man or woman should have an untimely and violent death, though it happens everyday.
Like everyone else, Bin Laden was an innocent child once. The big question for me as a psychotherapist is what extreme anger, violence, abuse or terrror was visited on him as a small child to turn him into the international serial killer he turned out to be? An inability to deal with this leads men (and women) to turn their suppressed anger outwards.
And what outpourings of distorted anger, rage and violence will now be visited upon the innocent of the world in his name by his misguided followers? The world needs to be on its guard – very much so – I fear some difficult days lie ahead.
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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