NABEEL RAJAB: Global Week of Action – March 21-28

Nabeel Rajab

Dear friends,

Nabeel Rajab, the co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a human rights defender, and a prominent figure in Bahrain’s pro-democracy struggle, remains in prison in Bahrain, serving a two-year sentence for calling for “illegal gatherings,” after already having served three months for tweeting a critical comment about the Bahraini regime.

Human rights activists in Bahrain and internationally are organizing a Global Week of Action for Nabeel from March 21-28. To help free Nabeel, we need you to join us in taking action!

Working in partnership with human rights organizations, the week will include peaceful rallies around the world calling for Nabeel’s release, advocacy, and a massive social media push, using videos, photos, Twitter, Facebook and the participation of prominent musicians and public figures to publicize Nabeel’s unjust imprisonment and the plight of prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

We call on you to join in the Global Week of Action. By calling collectively for Nabeel’s release, and the release of all Bahraini prisoners of conscience, we are acting in support of the basic human rights of nonviolent assembly and freedom of speech.

For those around the world:

Demonstrations are already being organized in Washington DC on March 22 and in London, Cairo, Paris, and Kuwait, on March 23. Dublin is holding an Awareness Day for Nabeel Rajab. Click here for more information about actions in your city and see details below:

  • Washington DC
    March 22, 1 p.m.
    Embassy of Kingdom of Bahrain, 3502 International Dr NW, Washington, DC 20008
    Co-sponsored by Code Pink and Witness Bahrain
    For more information, doolr
  • London
    March 23, 2 p.m.
    In front of the Prime Minister’s office, Westminister, 10 Downing Street
  • Egypt
    March 23
    Details TBD
  • Paris
    March 23
    Details TBD
  • Kuwait City
    Umbrella Kuwait Action
    Hunger Strike and seminar about Nabeel
    March 23, 7:30 p.m.
  • Dublin
    March 23, 11 a.m. until late afternoon
    There will be an awareness stand in Dublin City Centre, handing out informational leaflets about Nabeel and a petition for people to sign.
    Twitter acc @ireland4nabeel and Face book page ireland F nabeel.

We encourage you to organize a demonstration or vigil in your hometown during the Global Week of Action. You can include Nabeel’s image by printing a photo of him. Register your action at [email protected] so we can post it on the campaign website. Be sure to tweet photos and videos of your public action to @dont4getnabeelr and email them to [email protected].

Other ways to support the campaign:

  • Tweet about Nabeel, using #Dont_forget_NabeelRajab to signify your support.
    Photograph one of these images of Nabeel with a lit candle next to it. Tweet your photograph to @dont4getnabeelr, and upload it to Instagram @dont4getnabeelrajab, email it to [email protected], then set it as your social media profile picture with the campaign’s twitter ribbon.
  • Sign the Avaaz petition urging the Bahraini government to release Nabeel
  • Share the courage of Bahraini activists with your friends by posting Facebook, Google+ and Skype statuses in support of Nabeel.
  • Be creative! If you participate in an action other than the ones recommended here, we’d love to hear about it. Write a poem, or a song, or create a piece of art in honor of Nabeel and in support of freedom! Tweet what you’re doing to stand behind Nabeel, human rights and civil liberties to @dont4getnabeelr, upload images to Instagram @dont4getnabeelrajab and email us at [email protected]
  • FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Contact the offices of members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging the committee to hold a hearing on Bahrain, with a focus on prisoners of conscience, and particularly Nabeel Rajab.

If you are from one of the states with a Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, please call your Senator with the following request. If you do not have a Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, please call the Chair of the Committee. (Committee members and phone numbers listed below)

Sample script for call to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Members:

“Hello. My name is _____ from ______ and I am calling to urge the US administration to hold a hearing about Bahrain, with a focus on the prisoners of conscience being held by the Bahraini regime.

I am especially concerned about Nabeel Rajab, president and co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Nabeel was arrested last year for practicing the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly and is serving a two year prison sentence. He has been kept in isolation from other political prisoners. The other co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is also in prison, and went on hunger strike in February 2012 for 110 days, until he was force-fed by authorities.

I urge the Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing about these human rights abuses and to work for justice for all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.”

 

For those in Bahrain:

Please click HERE for a full schedule of actions in solidarity with Nabeel Rajab and all Bahraini prisoners of conscience.

For information about actions planned, please contact Jihan at [email protected]

Together, we can call out with Nabeel’s message of democracy and human rights for all Bahrainis. As Nabeel himself said, “I will not stop and I’m teaching people not to stop. If everybody will keep quiet after putting [the activists] in jail, then it’s a disaster. We should challenge that. We should be willing to pay the price for the struggle for the freedom that we fight for.”

Thank you for your support as together we build the global movement for Nabeel, Bahrain and human rights.

In solidarity and struggle,
Jihan Kazerooni
http://www.nabeelrajabsupporters.com

Background about the situation in Bahrain:

Popular protests demanding greater political freedom began in Bahrain in February, 2011 and have been characterized both by grave human rights abuses on the part of the government and by the courage of Bahraini pro-democracy and human rights activists who continue to stand up to an oppressive regime, despite facing arrest, torture, injury and death. A report released by an international commission of inquiry in November 2012 confirmed the Bahraini government’s use of torture, as well as other forms of physical and psychological abuse, on detainees.

For more on Nabeel Rajab
For more on pro-democracy protests in Bahrain
For more on the international commission of inquiry and the Bahraini regime’s use of torture
For more on American arms sales to Bahrain

The Child-Martyr’s Father: Jawad Al-Sheikh

Jen Marlowe

Ali Al-Sheikh was a 14 year old boy who was killed on August 30 2011–the first day of the Eid celebration–by a tear gas projectile shot by riot police directly at his head at close range. (Some of you might remember the blog post I wrote about him, Ali’s Unused Camera.)

I had the chance to meet Ali’s warm and gregarious father, Jawad Al-Sheikh, when he welcomed me into his family’s home, and took me to the site where Ali was killed, and to Ali’s grave.

Jawad was arrested on October 26 on charges of “illegal gathering” and remains detained.

Following, is a video of Jawad, as he took me through the site where Ali was killed and where he is buried, and explained to me what happened on that day, and the harrassment that the Al-Sheikh family continues to experience to this day.

With hopes for the unconditional release of Jawad Al-Sheikh, so he can return to his family who has already known too much loss and pain–and with hopes for the freedom of all of Bahrain’s political prisoners.

Child Martyr

The “Secret” Revolution That Could Set the Middle East Aflame

Jen Marlowe | TomDispatch

Jihan Kazerooni and I drove past scores of armed riot police on Budaiya highway as her iPhone buzzed non-stop: phone calls, Skype calls and, incessantly, Twitter. I had wondered what the phrase “Twitter revolution” really meant when I heard it used in connection with Iran in 2009 and Egypt in 2011. Here, in the small Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain, I was beginning to grasp the concept.

I was in that country for three weeks as a part of the Witness Bahrain initiative, a group of internationals seeking to document and expose human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime against protesters and activists. Aside from brief spurts of coverage, the crisis in Bahrain had largely been ignored by the U.S. media.

Perhaps the lack of coverage of the predominantly Shi’a uprising against an increasingly repressive Sunni monarchy can be explained, in part, by this: Washington considers that monarchy its close ally; Bahrain is the home of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, and the beneficiary of U.S. arms sales. Perhaps it has to do with the U.S.-Saudi friendship, and the increasing tension between the U.S. and Iran. Bahrain has been portrayed as a battleground for influence between neighboring Saudi Arabia (a supporter of the monarchy) and nearby majority Shi’a Iran.

Ignoring the revolution underway there and its demands for freedom and democracy is, however, perilous. If activists move from largely peaceful demonstrations toward the use of violence, Bahrain could prove the powder keg that might set the Persian Gulf aflame. Peaceful activists like Jihan currently hold sway, but given the brutality I witnessed, it’s unclear how long the Bahraini revolution will remain nonviolent.

Jihan took me under her wing, introducing me to dozens of Bahrainis who had been directly affected by the regime’s crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising. They were not difficult to find. There was someone in nearly every Shi’a family, Jihan’s included, who had been fired from his or her job, arrested, injured, or killed. Sunni opposition activists (though much fewer in number) had been harshly targeted as well.

Hitting the Road

Jihan, her hair tucked underneath a brown silk scarf and wearing fashionable sunglasses, opened an app on her phone as we tried to reach the march that had been called by a coalition of opposition parties.

“I’ll tweet that I am here in Budaiya Road, and there are no checkpoints in the area, but there are lots of riot police.” A new tweet came through before Jihan could finish composing hers. She scanned it quickly as she skillfully guided her car around a traffic circle. “Okay. The attack started,” she said. “It’s just at the next roundabout. We might be able to see it from the car.” Jihan rolled down the window. “Can you smell the tear gas?” she asked, began coughing, and immediately rolled her window up again.

As we continued our drive, grey clouds of tear gas billowed up from village after village, Jihan constantly checking her Twitter feed and rattling off the names of areas currently under assault: “A protest in Dair has been attacked and in Tashan as well. A’ali, also the same. Now they are attacking the women in the north of Bilad.”

New tweets buzzed. “Lots of injuries, actually, a woman has been injured, I’ll show you the picture…” She turned her phone my way, allowing me to glimpse a photograph of a bloody limb. “It’s her arm,” Jihan said, telling me that she suspected the injury was from “a sound bomb or a tear gas canister.”

The Evolution of an Activist

Jihan had not started out as an activist. She had been an investment banker, shopping in Bahrain’s high-end malls and socializing with friends. Demonstrations erupted at the Pearl Roundabout — with its imposing 300-foot monument of six arches holding a pearl aloft — in the capital city, Manama, on February 14, 2011, and only grew larger by the day as casualties and fatalities mounted. Still, she did not participate.

She had been largely ignorant of the protesters’ complaints: the same prime minister had governed for 42 years; the majority Shi’a community faced discrimination from the ruling Sunnis, evidenced most clearly by the fact that they couldn’t join the country’s military or its police. Instead, the government was importing foreigners from Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria, among other countries, to fill the ranks of the security services, often offering them Bahraini citizenship (which also threatened to alter Sunni-Shi’a demographics). The royal family had taken large swathes of public land for private benefit.

Jihan instead believed the version of the uprising being offered on state-controlled television. In that narrative, the protesters were not peaceful, but armed and dangerous. They had, the government claimed, stolen blood-bags from the hospital and were pouring that blood on themselves to feign injuries for the media. Force was being applied by the regime rarely and only when it was absolutely necessary to disperse those demonstrating. Government spokespeople claimed Shi’a doctors at Salmaniya Hospital were taking patients and co-workers hostage.

On the morning of March 13th, Jihan received a few text messages on her way to her office, appealing for people’s presence at the Pearl Roundabout because government forces were attacking. She decided to go and see for herself what was taking place.

What she saw shook her to the core: unarmed protesters — women and children among them — chanting for democracy, freedom, and equality as riot police fired bullets, birdshot, and tear gas canisters directly into the crowd. Jihan stood to the side, crying, as women around her wailed and read aloud from Qur’an.

Then, in the distance, she noticed bodies being loaded into cars. She couldn’t tell if they were dead or wounded, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away either as the cars were filled and each drove towards nearby Salmaniya Hospital.

It was there that Jihan drove next, and found more wounded patients than available beds. Protesters who were injured by birdshot or overcome by tear gas were lying on white sheets spread across the parking lot, awaiting treatment from overburdened doctors and nurses.

The following day, 1,000 Saudi troops entered Bahrain at the request of the regime, backed by 500 police from the United Arab Emirates. The troops drove the protesters out of the Pearl Roundabout, destroyed the iconic Pearl Monument, and Bahrain’s King Hamad declared a state of emergency.

Soon after, house raids leading to mass arrests began. Most of the opposition leaders were jailed, along with thousands of protesters. Journalists were targeted, as were teachers, health-care professionals, and star Bahraini athletes. Hundreds of cases of torture (some to the death) were reported, and thousands were fired from government jobs for demonstrating, or, in many cases, merely because they were Shi’a.

Jihan realized that continuing with her former life was inconceivable. She visited Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, to ask how she could help. Hard as it had been to come to him, Jihan told Nabeel, she could no longer stay silent and on the sidelines.

A colleague of Nabeel’s trained Jihan in how to document human rights violations. Soon, she began doing so in cases involving medical professionals who had been imprisoned and tortured by the regime for treating injured protesters — and for speaking out about the injuries they were seeing.

By the time I met Jihan, she was an experienced activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the founding vice president of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), which seeks to aid in the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims.

The Battle for the Future of Bahrain

Seasoned as she was, Jihan was thoroughly shaken by the time we left an underground clinic late one night. There, nurses had secretly stitched up the gaping head wound of 13-year-old “Hussein,” shot with a tear gas canister after a march that had, ironically, been called to protest the excessive use of tear gas.

Jihan and I had been to the protest and, at its end, were speaking to bare-chested youths holding Molotov cocktails, their faces wrapped in t-shirts. “This [Molotov] is not violence,” one of them insisted. “What’s violence is what they use against us, live bullets. We are defending ourselves. We’re not attacking. If they attack us, we respond.”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a shout went up that the riot police were on their way. Jihan and I peeled away in a friend’s jeep, looking out the back window as arcs of light from tear gas canisters and burning Molotovs streaked across the night sky.

We thought we saw a tear gas canister hit a fleeing child in the head, and when Jihan received a phone call about the injury soon afterwards, we rushed to the underground clinic.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Jihan told me the next morning. “That thirteen-year old child we saw was in front of my eyes.”

She reached Hussein’s older brother by phone after several attempts. Hussein, he reported, was vomiting, not eating, and suffering from headaches. In typical fashion, Jihan sprang into action, contacting several doctors and medical professionals for consultation. There might be a serious problem, one that only a CT scan could detect, a specialist told her. Jihan’s worry deepened.

“Doctors with private clinics don’t have CT scan or X-ray machines, so we need to arrange a hospital for him, which is very risky. [Hussein’s family] won’t accept taking him to the hospital. They will be scared that he will be arrested, so, really, I don’t know what to do,” she told me, pressing her iPhone against her forehead. “It’s a very big decision, taking him to the hospital.”

There was good reason for all of them to fear the boy’s arrest. A few days earlier, Jihan and I had visited 11-year-old Ali Hasan, who had just been released after nearly a month in juvenile prison. He had been playing soccer outside, Ali told us, when armed riot police approached. His friends had managed to run away, but frozen in fear, he was arrested and charged with blocking the road in advance of a demonstration. What did he miss most while imprisoned? Ali responded without hesitation: his two little sisters and toddler-aged brother.

We watched Ali romp with his younger siblings, he tussling with and tickling them, they leaping on him with shrieks of laughter. It would have been easy to miss the shadow that crossed his face when he spoke about how frightened he had been, locked up without his mother.

Evidence of trauma was hardly borne by this boy alone.

I saw it when a male medical worker broke down weeping as he described what he had witnessed at Salmaniya hospital during the crackdown on Pearl Roundabout.

I heard it in the voice of Dr. Nabeel Hameed, one of the doctors arrested and tortured by the regime, as he described his struggles with depression, anger, and confusion since his release, and detected it in Dr. Zahra Alsammak’s flat affect when she declined to describe the torture that her husband, also a doctor, had endured.

I recognized it in the crayon drawings by the children of prisoners and “martyred” protesters, replete with gun-wielding police, tanks, stick figures behind bars, and bodies on stretchers.

I felt it in the mother of Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh, as she buried her face in a pile of her son’s t-shirts and breathed in their scent, as she has done every night since 14-year-old Ali was killed.

“There has been a lot of damage and hurt, the people won’t forget it very soon,” Jihan told me. “Even if we got our freedom tomorrow, the people need time to be healed.”

If the regime did not institute “true reforms,” and soon — which I saw no indication of — Jihan predicted that the government would soon be facing a more aggressive generation. “We don’t want that,” she said forcefully. “We started peacefully and we want to stay peaceful… We are trying our best to advise [the youth] not to hold these Molotov cocktails. But, at the end, I think if the violence [against them] increases, it will be very difficult to control them.”

The impact of the trauma does not escape the activists. Jihan described documenting the killing of Ahmed Ismail Hassan, a 22-year old citizen-journalist shot in the lower abdomen by live ammunition as he was filming a protest. Jihan had never seen so much blood. For two days, the smell of blood in her nostrils prevented her from eating and for two nights she could not close her eyes.

“Every day we’re documenting and seeing these violations, so we’re under a lot of pressure. In the end, we are human beings. We get affected, we get hurt. The leaders and the human rights activists, we can’t show the people that we’re affected and broken from inside. If the people see that we are collapsed internally, what kind of strength will they get from us? Sometimes I get broken from inside, I disappear for a few days, but I try my best to fight depression. I try to keep busy and not think about it.”

A Country at a Crossroads

I asked Jihan about the possibility of her own arrest.

“I think that they will target me very soon,” she said. “At any time they might raid my home and arrest me.” She fears most the possibility of torture. She’s documented enough cases to know just what she might be forced to endure. But she adds, “I do believe that getting freedom and democracy for the coming generation is very important, and highlighting the violations that are happening in the country is very important. Freedom is not something easy to get — we have to pay and to sacrifice for it. Fear of arrest won’t stop me from doing my humanitarian job. I won’t give up.”

Jihan’s fellow Bahraini activists are not giving up either. They continue to head out onto the streets night after night, despite the fierce repression they face from the regime and the silent complicity of most of the world. Yet there is reason to worry about where the Bahraini uprising is heading. As Dr. Nabeel Hameed put it, “The situation is getting entrenched, it’s getting stagnated. Nobody sees a solution, and this gives loss of hope. And one of the most dangerous positions you can put a human being in is loss of hope. Because when somebody loses hope, he’s capable of doing anything.”

Juxtaposed with despair, however, is the resilience — or sumud (steadfastness) — that could be seen everywhere I looked. It was in the drawings of the children, who defiantly portrayed hands raised in a “V” for victory sign among images of bloodshed. It was in the graffiti depicting the Pearl Monument on walls all over Bahrain, with the stenciled message “We Will Return.” It was in the youth we secretly filmed in their villages after midnight spray-painting bus stops and light poles with the colors of the Bahraini flag.

And it was reflected in 13-year old Hussein, who called Jihan two days after being stitched back together without anesthesia to report, to her great relief, that his vomiting had ceased and his appetite had returned.

Hussein tried to thank Jihan for her help, but she would not permit it. “No need to say thanks, habibi [my dear]. I’m only doing my duty.”

Jen Marlowe is an author, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. Her latest book (written with Sami Al Jundi) is The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey From Prisoner to Peacemaker and her most recent film is One Family in Gaza. She is the founder of donkeysaddle projects. You can follow her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg.

Copyright 2012 Jen Marlowe

Stitching Up Our Injured Children

by Jen Marlowe

We think, though we are not certain, that the tear gas canister we saw being fired is the one that hit the boy on the top of his head.

It was nighttime, and we were watching from some distance, but we believe we saw the shot hit somebody in the head, the boy was injured in the same neighborhood, and his was the only head injury from that particular neighborhood on that particular night.

By the time we arrived at the “clinic” the boy’s wound had been cleaned and the hair around it was shaved, prepared for stitching.

About the boy: he was thirteen years old, small and skinny, wearing a red t-shirt with white stripes and was terrified. Not only had his head been split open when the protest ended in clashes and a tear gas canister was fired directly at him by the riot police, but his fifteen year old brother had also been arrested, and the brother’s fate was unknown. When the boy covered his face with his hands and began to weep, it was for his brother, he told us, not because of his wound.

About the “clinic”: it was the living room of a family who had made it available for this purpose. The boy sat on a thin mat on the floor, two women nurses wearing black abayas and hijabs crouched down next to him, gauze, cotton balls, ointment and rubber gloves strewn on the floor between them.

If the boy’s family took him to a proper clinic or to the hospital, he might be arrested for having participated in a protest. If the nurses treating him were discovered, they, too might face arrest.

“But we have to do something,” one nurse, a young woman with a quiet voice and flashing eyes said to me. “When I see this happening, especially to the children, I can’t just sit and do nothing.”

Would she say that on camera, with her face covered, I ask.

stitching injured children
Boy with head injury in Bahrain

She smiled and shook her head no. “I was already arrested and they know me and even my voice. It is too risky.” She showed me a bone in her body that had been broken from torture she received during her last imprisonment and how it had not healed properly and never would, even after two surgeries.

The women turned their attention back to the boy who was crouched on the mat, head buried between his knees, waiting for what was to come. The nurses told him to lay face down on the mat and began their work, without anesthesia. The boy screwed up his face and squeezed his muscles against the pain, but he did not cry. With primitive instruments and deft, gentle fingers, the women stitched his gaping wound closed, and bandaged his head with gauze.

injured child
Getting stitched up in an underground clinic in Bahrain

The nurses returned the scant medical supplies to a suitcase as the boy sat up and gingerly explored his bandage with his fingers.

The next day, the boy would be in great pain, vomiting, unable to eat. His family would wonder if they should take him to the hospital after all, but how to explain the cause of the injury, how to explain that the wound was already stitched?

For the moment, however, the ordeal of the treatment was over, the boy had survived the pain, and he had been brave.

This was but one boy, hit by one tear gas canister, being treated at one underground “clinic.”

medical supplies
Medical professionals have rudimentary equipement to use in Bahrain

How many like him lay on mats in apartments across Bahrain, as nurses and doctors work clandestinely and at great risk to themselves with crude supplies and quick fingers, stitching up their injured children?

The Last Tweets Before Prison: Interview with Nabeel Rajab

by Jen Marlowe

Nabeel Rajab (@nabeelrajab) sat in the living room, pecking at the iPad perched on his crossed knee.

“How are you?” he asked as I entered the house.

“How are you?” I asked him in reply.

He removed his glasses and grinned wryly. “Doing my last tweets.”

Just a few hours earlier, Nabeel’s verdict for one of his four outstanding charges had been issued. He was sentenced to three months in prison, effective immediately.

Nabeel is the co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (click here if you are inside Bahrain and cannot access their main URL), a prominent figure in Bahrain’s pro-democracy struggle, and an uncompromising critic of the Bahraini regime and the brutal methods it employs in suppressing dissent. The three month prison sentence is his punishment for tweeting a sarcastic comment about the Prime Minister.

“I heard for one of your last tweets, you sent that same tweet again.”

Nabeel’s grin widened. “I did that.”

Nabeel Rajab and family
Nabeel Rajab spending time with his wife and son before being taken to prison

His wife woke Nabeel up in the morning with the news of his three month prison verdict. He lay in bed wrapping his brain around it. He was not in shock, angry or upset, he told me, but he was surprised. He was not expecting to be convicted, much less sentenced to three months in prison. It must be connected to the tweets he had been sending out in the last few days, he surmised, tweets that very directly criticized the king and prime minister. He was convicted for an old tweet, but the sentencing was revenge for his recent tweeting.

He got out of bed after a few moments. He had friends and family to sit with before the police came to him, he had his lawyer to meet with, and he had his final tweets to write.

How could the government justify locking him up for three months, how could they explain this to the international community, Nabeel wondered aloud to me. Perhaps they would not even try to justify it, he answered his own question. “Because they (the Bahraini regime) have the support of United States. They have the support – or the silence – of the international community. That is seen here as a green signal. That is why they are proceeding. More oppression, more attacks against human rights defenders.”

police
Riot police surround the home of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel had been in prison for most of the previous two months. In fact, I had first met Nabeel the day he was released from his last prison stint. And now, less than two weeks later, he was being incarcerated again.

“They thought the nearly two months in jail before was enough to keep me quiet,” Nabeel said. “But they realized no, that did not keep me quiet. So maybe (they think) these three months will…”

Nabeel anticipated that the three months might stretch to a much longer incarceration. There were still three more pending cases against him, not to mention new cases that might still be brought.

But, he said, “I will not stop and I’m teaching people not to stop. If everybody will keep quiet after putting them in jail, then it’s a disaster. We should challenge that. We should be willing to pay the price for the struggle for the freedom that we fight for. And this is the price.”

Police leading Rajab
Police leading Nabeel Rajab from his home to 3 months in prison

The high price that human rights defenders in Bahrain pay is due to the interests that Western governments (especially the United States) have in the region, Nabeel said. For this reason, Western media is largely silent when it comes to Bahrain. If support for the pro-democracy struggle from the world — and from America – was offered, Nabeel said, it would be welcomed. But he was not expecting it, nor was he willing to bend over backwards to court it.

“We will count on our own people,” he said resolutely. “We will continue our struggle. We know it’s a long way, it could be very costly. But we are determined to continue our struggle for freedom and to bring democracy to this part of the world. We believe in our people, we believe in the commitment of our people. And that belief convinces me that we will win our battle for freedom.”

Typically, a verdict is appealed before it is implemented, Nabeel said. But because his case is a political one, he expected to be taken to the prison at any moment. A Ministry of Interior helicopter had been hovering over his house from the moment the sentence was announced, monitoring Nabeel’s movements as well as everyone else’s.

Nabeel excused himself to go and talk to his lawyer, and then went into a side room to try to complete some urgent work. The police came at approximately 1:30pm, dozens of them, surrounding the house from all sides before entering the premises. Clad in jeans and t-shirts with bright yellow police vests and black masks, they led Nabeel out of his home and towards the waiting jeeps.

“Baba, sumood!” his ten-year old daughter called after him, urging her father to remain steadfast, the catch-phrase of the Bahraini revolution.

“The dictators of this country think that by imprisoning me, it’s an end of an era and they’re going to silence the nation,” Nabeel said just before we ended our conversation. “But I think it’s the beginning of an era. The determination I’ve seen among people convinces me that our struggle will continue. The coming few days or few weeks will prove if what I am saying is right or if it is wrong.”

Click here to read more Witness Bahrain blogs featuring Nabeel Rajab.

Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh: One Bahraini martyr’s story

by Jen Marlowe

Ali’s unused camera

Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh
Ali Jawad Al-Sheikh, killed August 31, 2011

Ali Al-Sheikh loved playing sports, swimming, and taking photographs. Photography was a growing passion of his. At age fourteen, he was already on his fourth camera, constantly begging his parents for bigger and better ones.

Ali’s little brother, twelve-year-old Ahmad, seems to have inherited his brother’s interest in cameras. In his home two nights ago, he motioned for me to hand him my video camera so he could film his mother (Um Ali) showing me Ali’s possessions in their small apartment in Sitra, Bahrain.

Ahmad scrambled onto the bed to get a good angle and opened the view finder as Um Ali buried her face in a pile of Ali’s sports shirts, breathed in their odor, and began to cry.

She has been smelling Ali’s clothes and blanket every night before she goes to sleep since August 31, 2011, the day that her son was shot and killed by a tear gas canister to the back of his head.

Ali had been active in the protests since the beginning of Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising, in the Pearl Roundabout days. After Ali’s friend was killed, his participation intensified. Ali went to every funeral/demonstration for every shaheed (martyr). He witnessed the impact of the crackdown, seeing homes in his neighborhood raided nightly. Ali was also no stranger to the poverty and unemployment that protestors say are a result of sectarian discrimination. Ali, Ahmad, and their two sisters all slept in one bedroom, long past the age when Islamic tradition considers it acceptable.

Yet despite their modest means, Ali’s parents did all they could to encourage his development. In fact, his mother bought Ali a new camera as a gift for Eid (the festival at the conclusion of Ramadan).

She never gave him the camera.

On the morning of the Eid, Ali went to pray and then returned home briefly, only to turn around and start to head out of the door again.

“Ali, where are you going?” his mother asked. “Take a shower and put on your new Eid clothes.”

“I’ll be right back, Mom,” the boy insisted.

“Don’t be long. We have to get to your grandmother’s house before they block the roads.”

Ali and Ahmad, then eleven years old, scurried out of the apartment. Shortly after, Um Ali heard tear gas being fired—a sound she had grown accustomed to.

Ahmad rushed inside moments later. “They attacked us!”

This, too, had become “normal” yet Um Ali’s heart constricted. “Where’s Ali?”

Ahmad held out Ali’s cell phone. “When the shooting began, he told me to take his phone and run home.”

Ali's mother
Ali’s mother, father and brother standing in front of photos of Ali.

Ali’s father (Abu Ali) received a call on his cell phone. Ali was slightly injured, the caller said, and had been taken to the Sitra medical clinic. Abu Ali rushed there right away while Um Ali remained at home, panicked, trying to call her husband and anyone she could think of for an update, but no one answered. Finally, she reached one of Ali’s friends.

Um Ali screamed and hung up the phone, going into a state of extreme shock and denial. Groups of mourners who gathered in the apartment found her lying on the sofa, wailing, “Bring Ali to me! I want my son back!”

The disbelief continues ten months later. The Al-Sheikh home is a shrine to Ali. Ali’s image, with full lips and brown, soulful eyes, adorn every inch of wall space. Pre-school aged Ali with his baby brother. Ten-year-old Ali bobbing in the swimming pool. Twelve-year-old Ali proudly holding a certificate of achievement from school. Fourteen-year-old Ali standing defiantly at the Pearl Roundabout with his not-yet-martyred friend just behind him. It still feels like a bad dream to his mother, a dream she still believes she’ll wake up from, and find her son at her side again, helping her with the computer or showing her how to send a text message, as he always did. Ahmad and nine-year-old Fatima try to coax their mother out of her tears, and encourage her to get over the loss of Ali.

I have known too many mothers of martyred children, whether killed in Palestine/Israel, Bosnia or Northern Ireland, and I know: Um Ali may be able to eventually continue her life, but she will never recover. The family will carry the gaping wound from the place Ali once occupied long after his photographs go back into albums and his clothes and notebooks are packed into boxes.

Um Ali prays that those responsible for her son’s murder will be held accountable. She wants them to know the same pain she is experiencing. She wants them to understand the depth of the tragedy of a young teenaged boy, demonstrating for his freedom and his future, cut down before he had the chance build that future.

Before taking a single photograph with his new camera.

“Where is Ali? Why is no one answering me? Where is Ali? Tell me!”

“Ali is a martyr,” the friend told her. “He is with God.”

 

If you loved the king, nothing bad would happen to you

by Jen Marlowe

health“Everyone here has a story,” I’ve been told repeatedly. “There are too many stories.”

Here is one.

L. came to meet me in the evening; an effusive woman with a round face, warm eyes and soft brown hair, covered by a scarf of shades of brown.

“Where can we sit?” she asked me, looking around the house for a private corner. She did not want to tell me her story in front of her young children.

L. worked for the Ministry of Health, in Human Resources. On April 18, 2011, a month after what is known as “the crackdown” began, hundreds of armed “special forces” surrounded the Ministry of Health compound. It was difficult know who comprised this armed force, L. told me, it seemed to be a mixture of army and police, some uniformed, some in civilian clothing, and almost all wearing masks. L. had never seen such a collection of various weapons outside of an American action flick. The armed operatives went from floor to floor. They knew precisely which employees they were looking for, and where their offices were located.

“They must have had help from the Sunni employees to have this much information,” L. said, then hesitated. “I feel bad talking about Sunni/Shi’a,” she added. “But that’s what happened.”

Several of the armed forces identified L. in her office, with the assistance of her manager, who observed all that ensued. Whatever comments she had made about the situation to her colleagues in the past months was documented on a sheet that her assailants read from.

The first punishment facing L. and her colleagues was humiliation. Prayer mats were thrown into the garbage. Insults were liberally slung. “You’re a bunch of stupid Shi’a.”

Insinuations of support for Hezbollah were made. “Who is Hassan Nasrallah?” they asked. “Do you like him?”

They demanded that L. hand over her iPhone — they knew that she had one. Fortunately, L., having a premonition that the attack might happen, had left it at home.

One man took her to her manager’s office and led the questioning. “I’m just like your father, and you are my daughter,” he began, gently. “Tell me what you know and I’ll try to help you.” He began to ask about her party affiliations and whether she supported the opposition.

“I’m a mother, an employee, and I’m not political,” L. insisted resolutely. “The only thing I care about is my kids.”

He questioned her about her family – where did her husband, father and brothers work? She told her interrogator that they were all small business owners.

“I don’t like you,” he said, beginning to turn nasty. “I don’t like you at all.”

L. thought she understood the subtext of the man’s comment: You have money — why are you against the government?

L. tried not to focus on the sounds of her colleagues being beaten and crying on the other side of the room, as her questioning continued.

“Did you go to Pearl Roundabout at all?”

“No,” L. lied.

He asked her next about her educational background.

“The more educated you are, the more trouble we get from you,” her interrogator sneered. L. remained silent. “I don’t like you at all, and because you’re not cooperating, I’ll get someone to beat you.”

Two dark-skinned women security forces, Bahrainis but perhaps of African descent L. thought, were brought in. Blows from their fists rained down on L.’s face, shoulders and back. Sharp kicks were delivered, and face-slapping to further humiliate. They dragged her back to her office, and several people began to open her office drawers, and opened her emails on her computer.

“We want to see how much is your salary,” one of them demanded. L. showed them a document on her computer. “You receive three times our wage, and you still hate your government?” They began to hit L. again, repeatedly, pulling her out in front of her colleagues as they punched her in the mouth, neck and shoulders. She could hear cries coming from every corner of the office, but L. was in too deep a state of shock to cry.

Two of her assailants grabbed her from under her arms and began to drag her down the steps to the 2nd floor.

“Stop hitting this cute girl, I like her,” one masked man leered. He put his arm around her to lead her downstairs himself, fondling her breast as he did.

On the 2nd floor, L. saw one of her fellow employees pushed against the wall as a large woman in a mask ripped off her abaya and tore her clothes so that her skin was exposed. “Come here and look at the white Shi’a meat!” the masked woman called out.

L. watched in horror as another fellow employee was dragged in front of her and pushed down the flight of stairs to the first floor — rolling the whole way down — and then pushed down another flight to the ground floor. When L. made it down to the ground floor herself, her colleague’s face was swollen and bloody beyond recognition.

Eleven women employees were gathered on one side of the entry foyer and around 35 men on the other — all Shi’a, most of whom worked in the Human Resources department. L. surmised that Shi’a in the HR department were specifically targeted because they had access to information about all the ministry departments.

The women sat on the ground of the entry way — “You don’t deserve to sit on government chairs!” – while the men on the other end of the foyer were forced to sit facing the wall, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Dogs were brought in to sniff everybody. L. could see blood seeping through the white thobes of some of her male colleagues.

One man’s ghetra (the white head covering worn in traditional Gulf dress) was wrapped around his neck and used as a leash, forcing the man to crawl on all fours like a dog. “Stand up and dance!” he was ordered. He did so.

The assailants commanded the men to hang photos of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on the wall and to kiss them. The women were forced to hold photos of the king, prime minister and crown prince above their heads while shouting “Aash!”, long live the king.

“Sing the national anthem!” they were commanded, as they stood with the pictures above their heads. Anyone who stumbled over the words or forgot them was slapped or punched in the face.

******

I had a meeting to run to, so L. was not able to finish the story, though I knew it involved spending the night at the police station, and being sacked from her job along with half of the Ministry of Health’s Human Resources department.

As I packed up my notebook, L. related one more detail of her ordeal. One policewoman had approached her repeatedly in the foyer of the Ministry of Health. “Why don’t you love the king?” she asked L. “If you loved him, nothing bad would happen to you.”

Cafe’s, coasters, tear gas and police

by Jen Marlowe

The crack of the rifle was loud — the policeman must be nearby.

“Quick, come in here!” H. led me into an apartment building into which a handful of other protestors had ducked to take refuge. “It’s very dangerous now.”

Inside the hallway, debate swirled as to whether the shot was live ammunition or bird shot (most likely the latter, they all agreed) and then H. went with the men to an apartment upstairs and the women, all wearing black abayas and headscarves, ushered me into the apartment on the ground floor.

“You are journalist?” one woman asked me, noticing the video camera.

In my broken Arabic I answered, “Aiwa, ana sahafiyeh mustakillah.” – Yes, I am an independent journalist, a phrase my colleague Adam taught me when we filmed in Darfur.

Immediately the women began telling me what they had been enduring, the ones with some English translating for the others.

I held up my video camera. “Would anyone like to speak about this on the camera?”

“No, no!” at first, and then, one woman asked if she could speak in Arabic, covered her face in ghishwa (a black gauze used to cover the face) in order not to be identifiable, and began to talk about the children in the village who had suffered from the continuous tear gas inhalation, providing the names and ages of children who had died, when her mobile rang. It was an update on the police attack outside. A young man taking photographs had been shot in his upper arm with a tear gas canister, two shabab (youth) had been arrested and there had been more rifle shots.

Soon, we could hear the shabab chanting—the police had left and the villagers were gathering to try and march again. The women slipped on their shoes and rushed to join.

Shebab
Shebab protesting in Bahrain

We were in the village of Karraneh, but similar protests were taking part simultaneously in fifteen different villages. This particular day of protest was lodging an objection to the regime’s use of torture, and, I suspect, a reaction to the king’s proclamation the previous day that there was to be no more protests. H. and I joined the gathering spot and waited for awhile to see what would happen, and then decided to leave. Ten minutes later we were on the highway when H. pointed out thick, dark grey smoke rising in the distance.

“That’s Karraneh,” H. said. The demonstration had been attacked again.

We drove past the coffee shop where all the activists hang out. The place is also crawling with undercover government agents and informers, making it off-limits for me. Their presence doesn’t seem to bother the activists, who are all well-known to the government. But if I get caught, I’ll be immediately deported. The activists gathered on the café’s outside terrace all seemed to be watching a white minibus with steel grates covering its windows, parked in a roundabout directly across from the café and guarded by several armed riot police. I had seen similar minibuses parked all along the side of Budaiya road (an area known as a hot spot.)

“They’re called Coasters,” H. explained to me. “Look, someone is being arrested now.”

Tear gas canisters
Tear gas canisters

The policemen hustled a young man into the Coaster. When the demonstration was over, I presumed, he and any other young men arrested in the nearby villages would be driven to the nearest police station. If the Coaster rocked slightly back and forth, H. told me, the activists knew that the detainees were being beaten.

Later that night, we ate dinner with L., I., S., M. and A, other pro-democracy activists, at a Indian restaurant on Budaiya road. There was a faint trace of tear gas in the parking lot when we left. S. fell to her knees and began retching as everyone gathered around her, guiding her into her car where she would be safe from the fumes. S. has sickle cell anemia, making her particularly susceptible to tear gas.

After making sure that S. got home safely, M., H. and I drove around, trying to figure out where I would stay for the night. I was supposed to go to W.’s house, but her building was raided twice that day, and was not safe.

We were driving through a village close to midnight, calling various activists to see who might take me in, when M. skillfully guided his car around a crude barricade that the shabab had just set up, preparing for the night’s clashes.

“It may feel a little hot, but don’t worry, I’m used to this,” M. reassured me as he inched his car between a chunk of concrete and a burning tire spewing thick black smoke.

From the orange glow, I saw a handful of shabab standing by, t-shirts wrapped over their faces and Molotov cocktails held loosely in their teenaged hands. Zainab had explained to me a few days ago one reason that Molotov cocktails had recently made an appearance in the Bahrain conflict: If the police are afraid to enter the villages, then maybe there will be fewer night-time raids.

“Can we stop for a moment so I can film them?” I asked M.

“Better not,” M. said as we drove towards the entrance of the village. “The police are already on their way.”

A brief on the background to the current situation in Bahrain from an international human rights activist

by Jen Marlowe

Bahrain, a small Persian Gulf country consisting of thirty-three islands off the coast of Saudi Arabia, has been ruled by the Al Khalifa family since 1783. Roughly half of Bahrain’s 1.2 million inhabitants are foreigners. Of the Bahraini citizens, between 60-70% are Shi’a and 30-40% are Sunni (as is the Al Khalifa family). Historically, Bahrain was a commercial center, known for its pearl diving and fisheries. It is also, significantly, the home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet.

Bahrain was a British protectorate from 1861 until gaining independence on August 15, 1971. After independence, a modern constitution was developed, but it was frozen in 1973, as was all political participation. In 2000, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa began his rule, initially seeming to usher in an era of reform. He wrote a new constitution which was revealed in 2002, and Parliamentary elections were held for the first time. By 2005, however, people started to become disillusioned and the disillusionment deepened as years passed. Many Bahrainis felt that the reforms were not genuine, and that the political voice and participation they were supposed to enjoy was, in reality, extremely limited.

There were multiple, specific complaints: The same prime minister had governed for 42 years, appointed by the ruling family as well as being a member of the ruling famly; the majority Shi’a complained of discrimination from the ruling Sunnis, evidenced most clearly by the fact that Shi’a are not permitted to join military or police forces, and, in fact, the government brings ex-pats from countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan and Syria to fill those ranks, often offering them Bahraini citizenship, thus altering the Sunni/Shi’a demographics; the majority of the land is owned (amidst accusations of corruption) by the royal family.

On February 14, 2011, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, a group of anonymous youth (whose identities are, I’m told, still unknown) put out a call to protest at the Pearl Roundabout monument in the capital city of Manama. The regime responded with violence, leading to the death of 21-year old Ali Abdulhadi Mushama. More protestors joined the next day, more were killed, and the demonstrators decided to camp in Pearl Roundabout, Tahrir-Square style.

At 3 a.m. on February 17, Bahraini security forces attacked those sleeping in Pearl Roundabout, killing several and wounding dozens. Ambulances were prevented access and medical personnel who rushed to help the injured were also attacked. Shock and fury rose, leading to more protests, more killings, more injuries. Estimates of between 200,000-250,000 Bahrainis participated in some of the protests; an extraordinarily large percentage of the population of Bahrain. The political agenda of the protestors ranged from calling for a Constitutional Monarchy to overthrowing the regime altogether.

The demonstrators remained in Pearl Roundabout until “the crackdown.” In the early hours of March 16, 2011, one thousand Saudi troops entered Bahrain and took over Pearl Roundabout, backed by five hundred UAE police forces. The Pearl Roundabout monument, by now an iconic symbol of the opposition, was destroyed. State of Emergency Law was declared.

For the next months, anyone who had been involved in the demonstrations was targeted. Most of the opposition leaders were jailed, along with thousands of protestors. Journalists were attacked, as were health care professionals who had treated the wounded, and star Bahraini athletes. There were hundreds of allegations of torture (some to death), and thousands fired from their jobs due to participation in protests, or, according to multiple allegations, merely because they were Shi’a.

On June 29, 2011, the king established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate what happened and who was responsible. The 500-page report, released on November 23, 2011 detailed dozens of deaths, hundreds of claims of torture, thousands of arrests and cases of employment dismissal. Significantly, the report ascertained there was no evidence that supported the regime’s claim that the movement was a Shi’a uprising, instigated by or receiving direct support from Iran.

It is difficult for me to assess to what extent sectarian factors in play. The pro-democracy and human rights activists who I am talking to insist that, despite the regime’s propaganda, the revolution is not Shi’a versus Sunni, and that, in fact, there are numerous Sunnis who are part of the movement, as evidenced by the fact that the first political leader jailed in the uprising was Ibrahim Sharif, a Sunni leader of an opposition party. The goals of the revolution (regime overthrow, or Constitutional Monarchy, depending on which activists you ask) may not be sectarian, but it is certainly true that sectarian-based discrimination was a motivating factor for the uprising. Some people tell me that the vast majority of Sunnis support the regime and that only a few, token Sunnis are with the opposition. Others tell me that there is a far larger number of “silent Sunnis” who support the opposition but are afraid to speak out as the retaliation against them will be especially harsh. All the Shi’a I have spoken to about this issue have told me that they never used to think in terms of Sunni/Shi’a, and always had many close Sunni friends but that now, those same friends will no longer speak to them. I very much hope to explore this issue more deeply, though I will not be able to get the perspective of Bahrainis who are pro-government, as I have to be discreet about my presence in Bahrain.

Today, the uprising is characterized by continuous localized demonstrations, where nonviolent protestors in villages all over Bahrain (men and women), marching and shouting “Down, down, Hamad!” are met with a barrage of tear gas (the canisters often being shot directly at protestors) and bird shot. Masked youth retaliate with burning tires and Molotov cocktails. The massive, sweeping arrests have ended, though hundreds still remain behind bars, including children. Use of torture has decreased, I’m told, though not ended.

Disturbingly, there are nightly raids in villages throughout Bahrain. These night time raids, which resumed after Formula 1 and often result in arrests, seem to be becoming more frequent, prompting the well-known Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to refer to the current situation as the beginning stage of “Crackdown 2.0.” Two days ago, the king announced that there was to be no more demonstrations. That afternoon, a demonstration was planned in response to this proclamation, which was harshly repressed. Zainab al-Khawajah, who I wrote about in the previous post, was shot at close range in the thigh with a tear gas canister; her thigh bone is now broken.

Since my arrival, I have already witnessed much, and heard far more. As multiple Bahrainis have reminded me, nearly every family has been affected by the situation in one way or another, whether a member of their family was sacked from their job, arrested, injured or killed. Bahrain is very small, and the stakes, price, and outcome of the Bahraini revolution is highly personal to a huge swathe of the Bahraini people.