The Bergen-based Rafto Foundation announced Thursday that its Rafto Prize for 2013 will go to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, for its “long and courageous fight for fundamental human rights” in Bahrain. The foundation also criticized Norwegian authorities for not doing enough to promote human rights in Bahrain.
This year’s Rafto Prize was said to recognize an organization that has “consciously worked for the rights of Bahraini citizens and the many migrant workers in the country.” The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), according to the Rafto Foundation, has promoted non-violent protests against the current government in Bahrain, which has been described as an oil-fed dictatorship led by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Martin Paulsen of the Rafto Foundation scolded the Norwegian government when making the prize announcement, for failing to follow up its stated concern for the situation in Bahrain in 2011. “Norwegian authorities haven’t done anything,” Paulsen said, while US, German and British authorities have boosted weapon exports to the Gulf. “Fundamental human rights are being sacrificed for economic and strategic considerations,” he said.
Meanwhile, human rights demonstrations held in Bahrain are being increasingly met with “brutal means,” according to Rafto’s press release, with some organizers being arrested even before demonstrations begin. Fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly have been heavily restricted, with voluntary organizations subject to surveillance or arbitrary dissolution. BCHR has documented that more than 80 people have been killed, a high number in a small country. Others have disappeared, been subjected to sexual torture and lengthy prison terms.
Maryam al-Khawaga, acting president of BCHR while the organization’s president Nabeel Rajab is in prison himself, said the centre was grateful for the Rafto Prize and hopes it will attract more support for the organization from other countries. Her father, who founded the organization, is also in prison, along with her sister and uncle, and al-Khawaga herself now lives in Copenhagen after fleeing Bahrain, which won’t allow her return.
“This is a prize for everyone who has used their time and energy to work for human rights in Bahrain,” she told NRK. The prize, winners of which have often gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, will be formally awarded at a ceremony in Bergen on November 3.