The Pains of Bahrain (II): Accused by Association

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A teenager joins anti-government protesters as they try to get back to Manama's Farook Junction, also known as Pearl Square, in Karanna, west of Manama 23 September 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Hamad I Mohammed)

By: Shahira Salloum

Published Monday, September 26, 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.

Ghazi: Friendship with Royals No Guarantee of Safety

Still a toddler, Nasser had just learned to say “Daddy” when Bahraini security arrested his father, Ghazi. The latter has not yet seen his son crawl, take his first steps, or grow his first baby teeth. Nasser, who shares a name with the king’s son, is celebrating his first birthday, but his father has been in prison for six months. Ghazi is not a member of the opposition or a political activist, and he says he did not join the protests or go to the Pearl roundabout. His crime was simple: He wrote a sentence calling for Bahrain’s freedom on his Facebook page.

Ghazi is a well known businessman in Bahrain. He has relationships with members of the Al Khalifa ruling family and used to invite them to sponsor his charitable activities. He has the mentality of a businessman. He is not religious, does not like politics, and says he does not call for the regime’s overthrow. Yet Ghazi is in prison because, according to the regime, there is enough evidence against him: Ghazi is a Shia. He is also the son-in-law of Saeed al-Shihabi, a prominent opposition leader abroad who rejected a personal call from the king to return to Bahrain. Al-Shihabi refuses to return until the people’s historical demands for reform are met.

Ghazi’s wife Alaa told al-Akhbar details of what befell Ghazi:

“When they arrested my husband, the officer told him they were arresting him so that his father-in-law’s heart would break.”

“Eight masked men in civilian clothes kidnapping him from a parking lot and dragged him to prison. I first heard the news on Twitter from a government informant. Earlier in the day, my husband ate lunch, played with our son Nasser, and then went back to work. What’s terrible is that Ghazi knew the security men at the center where he is being held, because his uncle was a policeman there. After his arrest, they tortured him like the tortured opposition protesters. Ghazi personally knows the man who tortured him with beatings, sleep deprivation, and other terrible things.” Authorities accused him of illegal assembly and dispersing false rumors, specifically, the charge cites his Facebook statement, “People are demanding freedom.” Alaa continues, “They sentenced Ghazi to three years in prison, the longest sentence possible. Months have gone by and the military court refuses to hear our appeal.”

“Despite everything, Ghazi is still optimistic. When I visited him, he would tell me, ‘God willing, we will be together again for the month of Ramadan.’ But Ramadan came, so he said, ‘God willing, we will spend the Eid al-Fitr together.’ He still hopes to be free by Eid al-Adha. Meanwhile, the security forces show him no mercy. They refused his request to attend a cousin’s funeral. The cousin died at the age of 25.”

“As a British citizen, I approached the British ambassador hoping he would help release my husband. The ambassador told me he could seek a royal pardon. I then met with Sharif Bassiouni, head of the UN Fact Finding Mission in Bahrain. I felt that both the committee and Bassiouni were doing a poor job. I attended Bassiouni’s first press conference in Manama, just before the committee began its work. There I asked to meet him. I later met him at his hotel and was received by a lawyer who worked for the royal court. Afterwards, I saw Bassiouni, who told me he already informed the king of our meeting. Apparently, the king and Bassiouni discussed my father’s case, his refusal to return to Bahrain, and his sentence of life imprisonment. I couldn’t understand how Bassiouni allowed the king to know about our meeting. This made me question the committee’s neutrality. How could it inform the king of the smallest details, asking his opinions on such matters. I told Bassiouni, ‘I do not want to discuss my father’s case or the opposition. I came for my husband.’ He then asked me about my husband and directed a man to write down what I said. I was taken aback and asked him, ‘Are you taking a statement from me when you have not even started your work yet?’ Bassiouni replied, ‘I want to send a report of what is going on to the king.’”

“At that point, I sensed that Bassiouni was defending the king. He said to me, ‘The king does not know what is going on in the country. He wants to know all the details and the violations.’ I didn’t know what to say, ‘Does this make sense? All this oppression and arrests and the king does not know?’ He replied, ‘The king is kind and gracious.’ I said, ‘When my father met him, he said the same thing. We are not talking about the characters of individuals, we are talking about political choices.’”

“Bassiouni denied all claims of torture and said that he tried to mediate between the king and the people to defuse the crisis. I asked him whether it was his job to mediate or to discover the facts. I was angry and told him, ‘Let the king go to my father and negotiate with him. Why is the king using my husband for that?’ I felt that Bassiouni tried to portray himself as a savior, despite his obvious kneeling to the king.”

“After my meeting with Bassioni, I noticed that my husband was tortured more often than before. I sent Bassiouni a letter telling him that his mediation directly resulted in Ghazi’s torture and that he had been moved from a group cell to a cell with a convicted murderer. Bassiouni denied the implication. We exchanged several letters, and in one, he promised to visit my husband, though he never did. I believe that Bassiouni is in awe of the king and wants the public to believe that other, more powerful authorities are acting without the king’s knowledge. Bassiouni wants to clear the authorities of any guilt and portray the real dispute as happening between members of the ruling family, and not between the authorities and the opposition.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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