In February 2011, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, to demand political reform and an end to sectarian discrimination. The monarchy responded with force, clearing the protesters’ campsite and declaring martial law. Activists were arrested daily. Reports of torture emerged from the kingdom’s overcrowded detention centers and prisons.
The government’s violent response to largely peaceful demonstrations turned many Bahrainis, including me, into activists overnight. I went on a hunger strike for 12 days after my brother was arrested for taking part in the Pearl Square gathering. In June I staged a sit-in inside the United Nations office in Manama with activists Zainab al-Khawaja and Sawsan Jawad. We were promptly arrested.
I met my future husband, Hussain Jawad, during those tumultuous days. He was a prominent human rights activist known for his impassioned speeches calling for government reform. On the day I was arrested, he phoned the U.N. in New York continually for six hours demanding my release.
After authorities released me, we became friends and colleagues. Soon he confessed that he had more than just a professional interest in me. In late June, he asked me to marry him. I spoke to my father, who knew of Hussain and his family’s history of civil rights activism. When Hussain visited my home, my father told him that he was the man he wanted his daughter to marry.
Less than a year after our engagement, we founded the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights, where I serve as the head of information and media relations and Hussain is the chairman. We got married on Sept. 9, 2011. Given the ongoing protests in Bahrain and our chosen commitments, it was difficult for us to prioritize our wedding.
We built our marriage and our human rights group at the same time. He is an incredibly hard worker. In the beginning, I was jealous over how much time he spent on the phone with victims and their families. Sometimes at night when he thought I was sleeping, he would even sneak out of bed to continue working. Knowing I was upset, Hussain said to me, “Imagine that the next time I am arrested, you reach out to a human rights defender for help and they do not take your call. Imagine they turn you down. I won’t allow it, not for you or any family. This is why I work all night.”
In February 2013, I gave birth to a son, Parweez. He was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition when he was 4 months old and underwent months of treatment to prepare for surgery.
Hussain was arrested in November of that year for a speech he gave to a large crowd in Manama earlier that month, in which he had urged Bahrainis to continue their peaceful protests. He was charged with inciting hatred against the regime and insulting the monarchy.
After 46 days in detention, he was finally released, though he still faced charges. He feared that our home would be raided next. In an attempt to protect our family, he fled the country and moved to London for eight months.