The Pains of Bahrain (III): No Love for the King

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An anti-government protester put up posters of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Bahrain's King Hamad with "X" during a funeral procession of Jawad Ahmed, 35, in Sitra, east of Manama, 16 September 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Hamad I Mohammed)

By: Shahira Salloum

Published Thursday, September 29, 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.

Nabil Rajab: Tales of Torture and Assault

A climate of fear reigned during the recent uprising in Bahrain: Instances of sexual assault, rape, mass looting, and the destruction of mosques were frequently reported.

Human rights activist Nabil Rajab discusses two instances of sexual assault that stopped short of rape. “The first attacker was a ‘naturalized’ Bahraini and the second an ‘original,’ as known locally. Human rights organizations have taken up both cases with the security forces, which have thus far failed to respond. In the first case, members of the security force stormed into a house and attacked a girl in the presence of her family. The girl had a nervous breakdown, causing her assailant stop. In the second case, the assaulter stopped after discovering the girl was on her period.

Rajab explains that attacks have not been solely directed against women. Some men have been sexually assaulted, including himself. “I was kidnapped for hours and taken to a secret location. While blindfolded, they questioned, beat, and threatened me, before touching my genitals. Because of the nature of my work, I’ve recorded several cases of assault and torture during investigations. Authorities have developed new methods of torture, such as electric shock to the genitals or anal penetration with a stick, as well as spitting inside prisoners’ mouths, then forcing them to swallow.”

“A number of prisoners have died under torture. Karim Fakhrawi died of hunger, because he lost his ability to swallow from torture. Before he died, Fakhrawi screamed, "I want yogurt." Another victim, Zakariyya al-Ushairi, shouted for God’s blessing while he was questioned and tortured. The investigators, who I believe were of Pakistani origin, filled his mouth with paper to silence him. I am not surprised by these savage methods of investigation. There was a culture of torture among Bahraini security forces long before the uprising.”

“These official acts of aggression push people towards extremism, particularly when they are left to fend for themselves for political and sectarian reasons. Exacerbating the situation, the state has employed investigators to spy on ordinary Bahrainis and to punish the opposition in schools, universities, and private and public organizations. This creates a civil and sectarian rift between our people, because the security forces encourage those loyal to the regime to spy and inform on their colleagues at work belonging to the opposition. This fosters resentment among those fired from their jobs because of colleagues who informed on them.”

Hassan Mushaima: Violence and Buying Loyalty

The case of Sheikh Hassan Mushaima, a prominent opposition leader arrested at the beginning of the security crackdown, is another extreme example of state-sponsored violence. Mushaima completed his treatment of a cancerous tumor in his brain and neck in the UK right before returning to his country soon after the uprising began. According to his doctor in Britain, his illness requires continuous treatment to prevent recurrence. Mushaima’s family is worried about their father’s health at the moment. Even after his arrest, the sheikh was taken to the hospital twice and ‘treated’ with an unidentified substance. Mushaima’s family does not trust the regime or security forces and fears the authorities are providing him improper treatment. The family also claims that he has been tortured despite his illness. He was kept in an isolation cell and cold water poured over him. He has also been pushed to the ground and kicked.

Mushaima referred his health condition to the international committee, which carried out tests on his behalf. Adding to his family’s anxieties, the government refuses to release his test results, preventing his family from showing them to his doctor in London. Mushaima’s son Ali remembers his father’s suffering induced by the illness.

He also reflects on a meeting between his father and a Bahraini authority during the summer of 2010, when the Bahraini court discovered a conspiracy to overthrow the regime by a ‘terrorist cell.’ “I remember how a man from the Bahraini embassy in London met with my father, greeting him on the king’s behalf. He told my dad that the king wished him a speedy recovery and that he was following his affairs closely. This man carried an elegant bag with him which he offered to my father. He said, ‘This is a small gift from the king.’ My father asked the man, ‘What is this?’ The guest replied, ‘It is a modest sum of money.’ My dad became infuriated, ‘You want to buy me, now in my old age?’ This was two weeks before members of the ‘terrorist’ group were arrested.”

“The authorities tried to further pressure my father, sending a letter to the Bahraini embassy asking that they stop paying for his cancer treatment. Under normal circumstance, the Bahraini Ministry of Health covers the costs of treatment for expat Bahrainis suffering from chronic illness. They didn’t stop there. Soon after, they arrested my brother Muhammad, accusing him of possessing and distributing slingshots to young men, as well as spreading rumors. We were not allowed to visit Muhammad for five months. He was released only a week ago.”

“Before my father returned to Bahrain at the beginning of the uprising, I received a call from the British Foreign Office telling me they wanted to speak with my father. The person asked my dad to wait a little before returning to Bahrain. He said that there was ongoing dialogue with the opposition. My dad replied, ‘If there is dialogue, then I should be a part of it.’ He was critical of the British government’s handling of the crisis, rejected their advice, and decided to returned to Bahrain.”

War Zone

Rajab believes that the security crackdown’s savagery turned the uprising from one of roses to confrontation, from defense to attack. When protesters encounter police, they sometimes surround the officers, showering them with stones, tomatoes, and eggs. Or they prepare traps for the police, drawing them onto a village road littered with nails. As soon as police cars enter the street, their tires are destroyed.

Because of the regime’s control over the media, protesters found alternate means of communication. They began to write and draw on the walls, scribbling terms such as ‘enemy’ and ‘war zone’ around neighborhoods. This is the tragedy Bahrain is living through, and the country now seems on the precipice of civil war.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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