The Pains of Bahrain (I): Fear and Darkness

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People look at tear gas and percussion grenade canisters displayed at a rally held by Bahrain's main opposition Al-Wefaq party in Budaiya, west of Manama. (Photo: REUTERS - Hamad I Mohammed)

By: Shahira Salloum

Published Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bahrain’s regime may believe it succeeded in containing the people’s uprising through brute force. But Bahraini stories of torture, fear, and struggle recounted to Al-Akhbar suggest that the road to recovery and genuine change is long and painful.

Tahir: Lost in Three Types of Darkness

Tahir is the son of political activist Ibrahim Al-Madhoun. Tahir and his three brothers were arrested and tortured for months. Two of them received 15 year prison sentences. During the protests, their father was the voice of the opposition in the international media. When the Pearl roundabout attack took place, he was on a work trip to Beirut. The security operation against his family intended to pressure him to quit, but he remained a strong member of the opposition during his forced exile.

Tahir, 17, describes how Bahraini security forces stormed their home and led him and his three brothers — Hamed, 25, Khalil, 23, and Jihad, who was a minor at 15 — to prison.

"During my captivity, I was lost in three kinds of darkness: that of the blindfold, that of a pain I had never experienced before, and that darkness of a people seeking freedom.”

“When the security forces entered our home, they beat us and insulted our mother and stepmother. A whole army stormed the house. Their weapons ready to attack unarmed young men. They blindfolded me and began to beat me after they found a message on my phone that criticized the government. They beat me, my hands tied behind my back, until I started to bleed. On my right was a mercenary who had a non-Bahraini accent. He asked me, ‘Did you go to the roundabout?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He punched me and said, ‘Why did you go to the roundabout? To have fun or what?’ Then he punched me again.”

“I was continuously questioned during my captivity. Another investigator asked me, ‘Did you call out “Bahrain is free, free, naturalized people go out?”’ I answered ‘Yes.’ So he beat me up with a hose. At which point, they asked me and my brothers about some kidnapped policeman. This was an attempt to falsify a charge against me and my relatives. We were tortured for two more weeks. The security used electric shock and beat us with hoses and bats. I was kept on my feet and blindfolded for four days and provided no food for two days. During my captivity, I was lost in three kinds of darkness: that of the blindfold, that of a pain I had never experienced before, and that darkness of a people seeking freedom.” Tahir’s mother did not know whether he was dead or alive for two months. And after that, his trial began.

Said: Resisting Fear and Injuries

Said (not his real name) does not identify with political parties but belongs to a generation that lived through three decades of protests. The turn of events shook Said and other protesters. At one point, Bahrain’s crown prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa declared his willingness to engage the opposition’s demands. Said, like many Bahrainis, felt a sense of victory and there was massive applause and joy at the Pearl roundabout, a location where Bahrainis protested during the uprising. But the massacre of March 17 and the demolition of the Pearl Roundabout monument ended such hopes. From that day onward, the regime initiated its comprehensive security campaign, including a ban on all gatherings.

“I was first wounded by a rubber bullet that hit my shoulder during a religious festival. People were in the streets celebrating the occasion when the police came to disperse us with rubber bullets and tear gas. I was treated at a health center, but the Peninsula Shield forces [Saudi led military force that entered Bahrain upon the King’s request] surrounded the building. I was sitting in a wheelchair when a soldier asked me how I was injured. A friend came to my aid and said I was disabled, but the soldier was unconvinced and hit me over the head.”

People at the protest were in a state of hysteria. They were no longer afraid of death.”

“I returned home bleeding. They called an Egyptian doctor to treat my wound. The doctor woke me up and asked me to stand.” At this point, Said’s voice gently falters. The passionate young man becomes a different person, speaking slowly while breathing heavily.

“The soldier asked me if I participated in the protests. I denied that I did, but the soldier still pointed his gun to my head and asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ The soldier shouted insults at me. I urinated in my clothes. The soldier then left me, laughing as he walked away.”

“The soldier moved on to another wounded person at the hospital — a young man about seventeen years old, a diabetic. He asked him whether he had taken part in the protests, then dragged him out of the room and beat him until the young man lost consciousness and died. I could no longer bear staying at the hospital, which was more a military camp than anything. There was no food and not enough medicine.”

“I left the hospital but my health issues were not going to prevent me from joining the protests. People at the protest were in a state of hysteria; they went onto the streets and put themselves in dangerous situations. They were no longer afraid of death. After a while, the government became more lenient on demonstrations, though that did not last long. I was still in my wheelchair when I went with my friends to the anti-government protest. The police came to disperse the protest using live ammunition. I was shot in my back and my left leg.”

“I couldn’t go to the health centers, because the military was there; so my friends treated me at home. I screamed with pain, ‘Why didn’t I die?’ My mother held my mouth to keep me quiet and said, ‘Is it not enough that you are hurt? Do you want to kill me too?’ I remember everyone screaming, ‘This is Karbala... We are victorious by the God of the Kaaba.’”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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