Maryam al-Khawaja – daughter of the jailed Danish-Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja – will be awarded the Stieg Larsson Prize on November 8 in recognition of her work to promote democracy and human rights.
25-year-old Maryam al-Khawaja played a vital role in reporting the crackdown on pro-democracy and civil society groups before and during the Arab Spring uprisings.
“With the internet and social media as a tool, and through untiring activism and the power of the word, she turns the spotlight on injustices in her home country. In spite of threats and harassment against herself and her family she continues to work for a tolerant and more democratic state of Bahrain,” a press release from the Stieg Larsson Foundation stated. “Her achievements are entirely in the spirit of Stieg Larsson.”
Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was granted political asylum in Denmark in 1991 and he and his family eventually became Danish citizens. He returned to Bahrain in 1999 and established the pro-democracy organisation Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) in 2002. He was arrested for his work in April 2011 and jailed since June of that year. He protested against his sentence with a high-profile 110-day hunger strike that he called off in May. His life sentence was upheld this September.
Maryam al-Khawaja started working at the BCHR at a young age. At the age of 21, she testified before the US Congressional Human Rights Commission about the suppression of the Shia majority in Bahrain.
After returning from studying in the US, she became BCHR’s international liaison and deputy head. Her base of operations is in Denmark as she risks arrest if she were to remain in Bahrain.
The Stieg Larsson Foundation was established after the author’s death in 2004. Larsson was most famous for the Millennium Trilogy, a set of thrillers following the protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander as they attempted to unravel a dark conspiracy.
The foundation’s website states that Larsson was as much an activist as he was a writer, who fought “for freedom of expression, against racism and against the oppression of women".