Clara Zid, July 2019
His closest colleagues are in prison but he keeps fighting for a peaceful change, risking his freedom and his life. Khalid Ibrahim is a human rights defender in the MENA region, one of the worst places in the world in term of massive human rights violations. Khalid is a co-founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent non-profit organization based in Lebanon that supports and protects human rights defenders in 12 countries, which are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Iran, Syria and Iraq.
Khalid began his work for human rights in Iraq in the early 90’s: “Being brought up in Iraq during a time of dictatorship encouraged me to work in the field of human rights, in addition to the fact that massive human rights violations are taking place across the MENA region all the time.” Khalid worked for more than ten years in Dublin with Front Line Defenders, and thereafter he co-founded the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) in 2011 to help not only human rights defenders but also independent journalists, bloggers and lawyers.
Khalid colleagues and GCHR two co-founders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab and member of the board Ahmed Mansoor, are today jailed in Bahrain and United Arab Emirates because of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The MENA region is a risky place for activists, where many of them work without sufficient international protection and resources, usually clandestine. But, Khalid says: “We have to do it, for the good of all our citizens and also to have civilized countries that respect human rights principles.”
The situation in MENA is only getting worse, according to Ibrahim: “Human rights defenders are treated like criminals across the MENA region, they are facing all kind of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and imprisonment on fabricated charges after show trials.”
“Criminal that have regular visits and daily telephone calls. They could be released after serving 2/3 of their sentence and if they are released they could travel anywhere. However, detained human rights defender don’t have any of that. Even if they are released after serving the full sentence, often they will be served with a travel ban,” Khalid explaines.
Women human rights defenders are in a special sensitive situation because they suffer more harassment than men when defending human rights. “They are facing a lot of difficulties rights in many countries and on occasions treated as second-class citizens”, he says and adds: “In Saudi Arabia for example authorities forced to give women the right to drive a box of iron, namely a car last June, however, they put all the WHRDs who led the driving campaign in prison.”
Khalid Ibrahim’s struggle is the solitary struggle of the long-distance runner
Khalid Ibrahim works 24 hours/day on human rights defense: “While my colleagues are in prison and our people are deprived from their human and civil right, it’s my duty to work all the time.”
Where do you get your strength when everything is so dark, when your friends are jailed, and more and more activists are sentenced, when their lives are at stake? “You become motivated by your colleagues and the need to see them out of jail, by the lack of freedom across the MENA region so you need to even put more efforts to reach your objectives,” he says.
Khalid Ibrahim’s struggle is the solitary struggle of the long-distance runner, where the main weapon is a solid ethic. He says: “We must always uphold the principles of human rights and their ethics, whatever the adversaries do. This will lead to our victory even if it takes a long time.”
Virtualroad is another path to victory, according to Ibrahim.. I fully respect the work of Virtualroad and their timely response within minutes. They always provide personal support, not like a commercial companies. They are proud that they work for people that support human rights and we are proud too to work with them.”
Khalid Ibrahim has a message to the international community: “Show your support and solidarity with civil society activists in MENA region. If you live in a democracy, talk to your government to put human rights before profits when they talk to our oppressive governments. It’s very important that we work together to have a positive and peaceful change in our societies in order to have a prosperous future for every citizen.”
GCHR is hosted with Virtualroad since 2012. The website is currently blocked in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.