“My father was a very religious man, and very open minded,” Fatima said, calmly keeping the eye contact with me longer than people you meet for the first time normally dare. She is Karim Fakhrawi’s oldest daughter, born in 1986. Karim, who grew up in Manama but has Persian roots, is one of the 90 people martyred in the revolution since February, 2011. I was told many times that he was a very beloved and respected man in the community.
I was invited to his family’s house to meet two of his three children; Fatima, twenty-five years old, and Zahra, fourteen. Big chandeliers of crystal hung from the ceiling and the girls told me that Karim patiently placed every crystal piece with his own hands. They showed me his big collection of antique books that he, as a bookstore owner and publisher, had edited himself. In addition to the bookstore and publishing, he was the owner of a construction company which is now run by his wife. Several paintings of Karim were in the living room, given to the family as gifts from the community. In one corner there was a table with his Qur’an and lots of gifts received both before and after he died. One of the gifts was a little piece of the barbered wire that the Israeli government built in Lebanon during the war in 1982.
Karim’s two nephews were like sons to him after their father passed away. “He never used to differentiate between his biological children and his step-children,” Zahra Abdulkarim Fakhrawi, his fourteen year old daughter told me. “My older sister is actually my stepsister but I don’t think a lot of people know that or ever thought about it even.” Karim expected the police to target the two brothers through him, so he made sure his family would stay in a different place for some time. One day the neighbors told him the police attacked their home. The house was completely upside down. All the closets and shelves had been opened and everything torn apart. Even some of the numerous rocks for praying (turba) that the family kept in a bowl for when friends and extended family came during Ramadan had been broken. He remained calm and went to the police station to tell them what had happened to his house. He knew they were looking for him, so he wanted to save the family from more trouble by letting the police know where to find him. They told him to come back thirty minutes later, which he did.
It was the last time the family saw him alive.
Fatima showed me a report in Arabic that she made for Basouni when he was in the country. It showed pictures of the house after the raid and of Karim just before he went to the police station. There were also pictures of his dead body that the family saw later. In the first picture, from just before he left his house for the last time, he looked happy and calm. He had that big warm smile all over his face, just like his daughters.
After going to the police station for the second time he was missing for ten days. No one knew anything about his location or condition. The police didn’t admit that he was in their custody until ten days later when his secretary got a call. They said that he was in Salmanya hospital. The oldest sister, Fatima, went to the hospital to find out that he had been dead for two days already. From the pictures in the report I could clearly see the marks of torture. His legs had big marks that looked like burnings. There were wounds from having been chained by the arms and wrists, possibly to be hanged from the ceiling and beaten. On his neck there was a big hole which had kept leaking so much blood even several days after his death that they had to use an entire tube of glue to stop it. The doctor’s report stated that he died suddenly from “kidney failure.”
The rest of his family wanted to see him as well but it was during the days of the martial law and the hospital was completely surrounded by the police and military. Some people were allowed entry and others were not. Karim’s wife, Kubra, was not allowed to enter and was screaming and crying outside the hospital. It did not make the soldiers change their decision. His brother was allowed to see him in the hospital, but was threatened by one of the soldiers on his way out: “If you show pictures of his body to anyone, you won’t see another daylight.”
“If you show pictures of his body to anyone, you won’t see another daylight.”
Karim’s body was buried the next day. Kubra asked Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahraini Center for Human Rights, to come and document it’s condition. Karim’s brother, who had been threatened by the soldier, was afraid of the consequences of such documentation. In the end he prevented Nabeel from taking photos. Some people, who none of the daughters knew, took pictures of the body despite his brother’s concerns. They were quickly put online and stirred huge reactions all over the country.
“He was not just a father to me. He was like a brother and a best friend as well. No one understood me like him,” Zahra said. “I was never good at waking up in the morning, so my dad used to sit next to my bed for ten minutes almost every morning, to wake me up slowly by talking to me and teasing me and sometimes singing for me.”
We sat in the center of the living room on couches arranged in a circle while Karim’s daughters recounted the story of his killing. The circle of couches encouraged people sitting on them to look at each other before looking at anything else in the room. Most wealthy families I have visited in Bahrain place a television in the middle of the living room. I don’t recall seeing one there, but if there was one, it was well hidden away.
Fatima told me her father used to invite hundreds of people over each and every day of Ramadan to pray together with him and the family. Karim was the kind of man who would bring people together. Even now, after his death, many of friends come to their house to remember him and to pray. Behind the stairs she showed me a little corner where the close family used to celebrate Eid al-Fatr together. “It’s too painful to do it now. We will miss him too much if we sit in this spot without him, so now we sit upstairs.”
Before her father died Fathima used to live alone with her husband and son. She has since moved back to her family’s house to be close to her mother who is struggling with stress and other health problems caused by the emotional turmoil Karim’s killing brought. Her doctor requires someone to be with her at all times in case her health turns.
“We all miss him so much,” Fatima said. “I miss his footsteps on the stairs, his voice, everything even his smell – but my sister took his perfume and kept it to herself.” Both sisters explode with laughter when the perfume is mentioned. Their strong and loving bond is clear and inspiring.
Karim never talked about politics with his family. He was very focused on how he behaved towards others, and less so on how others behaved towards him. He always encouraged his children to be good people; to study well, be respectful to themselves and others, and to be honest and positive.
“He was always smiling.” While Fatima was talking about her father, her facial expression showed that she was clearly dreaming herself away to a nice place. “One of his friends asked me recently if I could find a picture of him alive and not smiling, and I couldn’t.”
Most Arabic names carry a meaning, and “Karim” means “generous.”
Zahra thinks that the way her father gained the respect and love from so many people is what keeps the family safe today. “Too many people cried over his death, and too many people were angry. They can’t afford to take another life from this family and they know that.”
They already took Karim, the generous.
Note: The author is a human rights volunteer and requested their identity remain anonymous for security purposes.