Twitter Power – Helen Clark comes to detainees’ rescue


Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has played a crucial role in winning the release of three jailed Bahraini activists and it is partly due to her passion for Twitter.

Now Secretary General of the United Nations Development Programme, she appears to have followed the arrest of the three women who were Twittering through it all, and then used the power of the social network and her office to win their freedom.

The three women were arrested as they tried to stage a sit-in at a United Nations office in the capital Manama.
Zainab Alkhawaja, Asma Darwish and Sawsan Jawad, who are all closely related to men who were detained during the recent protests, were finally released at about midnight local time.

According to the New York Times, throughout their seven hours in captivity, they managed to hold onto their phones and called on their followers on the social network to apply pressure on Bahrain’s government and on the United Nations.

Clark, who Twitters regularly, then used the UNDP handle to tell the women – and the world – “we’re looking into the situation and establish the facts with a sense of urgency. We’ll give an update asap”.

The women had wanted to present UNDP officials with a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in which they urged the international body to ask Bahrain to release all political prisoners and investigate allegations that detainees have been tortured.

According to Alkhawaja’s Twitter updates, after they declared their intention to stage a sit-in, a UN official told the women: “Your voice has been heard. You’ve done what you came to do. There’s no point to stay longer.”

He added: “By staying here you’re putting us in a very difficult situation. In the end we’ll have to call the police.”

It is not clear yet whether Clark – or some other UNDP official in New York – got onto the phone and demanded the release of the women.

Bahrain’s interior ministry had earlier said the arrests followed the request of the UN office and that “legal measures” were taken against the women for refusing to leave.

After the women were released, the UNDP Twittered that they launched a “full formal investigation” into what happened, suggesting Clark was unhappy over how her Bahrain office handled the matter.

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