Today is my mother’s birthday. Like every mother, she would love to spend it surrounded by her family and friends. However, for the third year running, my mother will spend her birthday in a cell in Bahrain’s notorious Isa Town Prison, in which she is confined for 23 hours a day.
My mother, Hajer Mansoor, is not a criminal. She has committed no crime. She has been imprisoned, along with my brother and cousin, in response to the human rights campaigning of my husband, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a refugee in Britain.
Our ordeal began over three years ago, while I was on a short visit to Bahrain. On 26 October 2016, my husband protested in London against the visit of Bahrain’s King Hamad to 10 Downing Street.
Hours later, as I was passing through airport security on my return to London, I was pulled aside by officers and subjected to a humiliating search. They snatched my 18-month old son from my arms and dragged me to a lift, from where I was escorted to a gruelling seven hour interrogation.
In the interrogation room, a chain-smoking security officer promised to hunt down my husband, whom he referred to as “an animal”. He taunted me, asking: “Where shall I go first, shall I go to his family or your family?” He warned me that if I spoke out about my experience they would throw me in jail on fabricated charges.
My mother was horrified when I called her to pick me up from the airport. A few days after The Sunday Times ran a headline stating “Bahrain ‘terrorises’ refugee’s family”, I was finally allowed to leave the country. That was the last time I saw her. I thought the ordeal was over. Little did I know, they would follow through on all their promises.
A few months later, the police came for my mother, my brother and my cousin. All three were subjected to violent interrogations and sentenced on fabricated charges. Hajer was forced to stand until she collapsed, requiring hospital treatment.
My brother, Nizar, who was just 18 at the time, was deprived of sleep for two days, stripped naked and threatened with rape. Human Rights Watch described their trial as “marred by due process violations and allegations of ill treatment and coerced confessions”. Since her arrest on 5 March 2017, my mother has remained in Isa Town Prison.
I cannot explain the pain of knowing that my mother, the inspiring matriarch who showered love and kindness upon everyone she met, now languishes behind bars, away from her family and friends.
I cannot express my horror when my mother begged my forgiveness should she not make it out of prison alive. I cannot describe the sleepless nights I’ve had since my mother informed me that prison authorities were refusing to take her to hospital after she discovered a lump in her breast that could be cancerous.
This birthday is particularly lonely for Hajer. Last September, after her case was raised by British parliamentarians, my mother was violently assaulted by prison guards, led by the head of Isa Town Prison, lieutenant colonel Mariam Albardoli.
Since that day, restrictions have been imposed on family visitation meaning that my 90-year-old grandmother will no longer be able to hug her daughter but will be forced to speak to her through a telephone while separated by a glass barrier. As this would break my mother’s heart, she has not seen her family for over six months. For the first time, she will spend her birthday alone.
My husband’s activism has not only affected my family in Bahrain. In 2015, the Bahraini government stripped my husband of his citizenship. Last year, I was sentenced in absentia for supposedly insulting a police officer at the airport. Consequently, we can never return to visit our family in Bahrain.
My husband and I now live in precarious legal limbo. In July 2017, we applied for indefinite leave to remain. Almost two years later, the Home Office continues to delay our application, with devastating consequences for our family.
In November of 2017, I gave birth to a baby girl in St Mary’s hospital in London. However, as Bahrain prevents women from passing citizenship onto their children, my daughter was born as a stateless child and remains so to this today.
The uncertainty is becoming increasingly unbearable. I feel deserted by Sajid Javid and the Home Office, who have done nothing to secure our residency and end our daughter’s statelessness, despite Britain’s international legal obligations.
I feel abandoned by foreign office ministers, who have visited Bahrain repeatedly, yet failed to advocate for my family’s freedom.
I long to be able to spend my mother’s birthday with her, but if I travel to Bahrain I am sure we will end up sharing a cell. My mother has never met her granddaughter. Yet every morning, when I greet my beautiful baby, I am proudly reminded of our refusal to give up.
I named my daughter after the woman who inspires me the most. I named her Hajer.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies