Sitra: the heart of the Bahraini revolution

by Jen Marlowe

Sitra protest
Sitra continues to protest the Bahraini government

Roughly 250 people gathered in the street in Sitra, Bahrain. Approximately half were men and boys, some dressed in white flowing thob, others in Western-style jeans and t-shirts. Women and girls made up the other half, predominantly (though not exclusively) clad in traditional black abaya and hijab. Several of the men, women, and children had one eye covered with gauze, fastened with surgical tape. This protest was on behalf of those who lost an eye — or both eyes — to the Bahraini riot police shooting rubber bullets, bird shot, and tear gas canisters directly at the faces and upper bodies of protestors. Approximately one hundred protestors lost an eye since the revolution erupted sixteen months ago, the activists who took me to the demonstration told me, a number I need to confirm.

“Look, there’s Zainab,” my new activist friend J. pointed out. I knew who Zainab was, of course. Her father, Abdulhadi al Khawaja, one of the founders of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was probably the best known political prisoner in the country. He had recently launched a hunger strike with the hopes of winning his freedom and drawing international attention to the human rights violations that has characterized the ongoing political crisis in Bahrain. Zainab became a fierce activist in her own right who has been detained and jailed multiple times, and is known for an uncompromising insistence on exposing the abuses in Bahrain and has a Twitter following of over 43,000. I had been following Zainab on twitter for months and had had phone contact with her since my arrival in Bahrain, but we had not yet met.

Zainab was standing off to the side of the protest, sending a tweet. She greeted me brusquely when I introduced myself to her. “It’s hard to tweet with this thing on,” she said, referring to her eye patch. “It’s hard to even keep my balance walking. I had no idea how hard it is to see out of only one eye.” Then, “do you have something to cover your face with?”

I held up the gas mask that the pro-democracy activists had provided me with. There was every reason to expect that the demonstration would eventually be met with a barrage of tear gas.

*****

Sitra is considered the heart of the Bahraini revolution. Sitra is one of five inhabited islands in the thirty-three island archipelago that comprises the small Gulf country of Bahrain. Demonstrations against the Al-Khalifa monarchy occur nearly daily in Sitra, I’m told, and a copious amount of tear gas is used routinely to suppress them.

In fact, the previous day, I had accompanied two young, female Bahraini doctors from Physicians for Human Rights as they began a process of documenting the long-term effect that continuous tear gas exposure is having on the people of Bahrain. We went to three randomly selected houses in one neighborhood in Sitra, explained the mission and were invited inside so the doctors could conduct their survey with the residing family.

The families in the first two houses reported being exposed to tear gas inside their own homes four to five nights each week for the past fifteen months; the third family reported daily exposure the last six months. Most times it was due to tear gas from the outside streets seeping into the houses, but, not infrequently, we were told, tear gas canisters were shot directly inside the houses.

“Because the shabab (youth, used to refer to the young men on the front lines of the protests) take refuge inside the houses in the village,” the activist translating for me explained in a whisper. A tear gas grenade had been thrown inside the third home we visited two nights prior.

“We don’t know what to do when it’s shot inside the house,” the mother told us. “If we open the window to let out the fumes, the tear gas that is outside comes in.” They were trapped in the tear gas and had no choice but to endure it. Once, this happened when the six year old boy was in the house alone. He was terrified and didn’t know what to do. In another house, the mother told us how her small daughter wakes up in the middle of the night, scared. She often scratched at her face even when there was no gas.

Symptoms we heard about from the regular, prolonged exposure included rashes, eye, abdominal, chest and stomach pain, dry cough, diarrhea, nasal blockage, headaches, and eye infection—symptoms which often persisted long after the tear gas itself dissipated. I was told that there had been four miscarriages in one highly-exposed neighborhood—PHR is investigating this claim as well. No one goes to Salmaniyya, the government hospital, for treatment. The fear of being arrested at the hospital is prevalent, and real. A teenaged boy is the third house told us that is uncle had gone to the hospital with a burn wound and was arrested, under the assumption that the burn was related to throwing Molotov cocktails.

Evidence of high usage of tear gas is all over Sitra. The sandy streets are littered with remnants of black plastic unmarked tear gas canisters of unknown origin, especially where the shabab had set up crude barricades out of mounds of broken chunks of cement, plywood, bed frames and broken furniture to keep the police out of the village. Pinkish/orange round, hard rubber bullets can be found in high concentration as well, as can the pellet-sized black rubber balls I was told were discharged when stun grenades were launched.

The family hosting me in Sitra have two beautiful canaries in a wire cage in their garden. There used to be six, the mother—a gentle woman with light brown hair and soft brown eyes—told me, but a tear gas grenade had been lobbed over the garden wall right next to the bird cage, and four of the birds were found lying stiff on the bottom of the cage, feet up.

I will be getting statistics about how many people have died from exposure to tear gas, but the activists are quick to remind me that tear gas-related casualities and fatalities are not just due to the impact of breathing the noxious fumes. The day before I arrived, a protestor’s skull was shattered by a tear-gas canister, one of many examples of riot police using the canisters themselves as ammunition and shooting them directly at protestors, often at close range. Amongst Sitra’s anti-government graffiti of “Down, down, Hamad!” (the king) and “We will never stop defending our rights!” one can find a stenciled spray-painted boyish face of fourteen-year old Ali Jawad Sheikh. Ali was killed in September, 2001, during Eid, by a tear gas canister shot into the back of his head. Ali’s stenciled image can be found all over Sitra, sometimes smeared over with a thick, gray painted X. Every day, I was told, the police try to cross out the graffiti and every night the shabab re-paint it.

*****

Sitra demo
Sitra continues to protest the Bahraini government

The march moved towards the main road. The majority of them women melt away—they didn’t want to be there for the presumed forthcoming attack by the police. Surprisingly, the anticipated attack never happened. It was the final night of a three-day festival, and there were scores of small children out on the streets playing, eating sweets from booths that were draped with festive colored lights and playing music. The protest organizers decided to end the demonstration early, before marching to the main road, in order not to risk the children being hurt in a police attack.

The entrance to Sitra was choked with black clad helmeted riot police stopping cars in order to prevent them from reaching the demonstration that they did not realize had already ended.

“How often is it that a protest is not attacked by the police?” I asked one of the pro-democracy activists.

“In this neighborhood? Almost never,” he answered, shaking his head in disbelief that the evening had started and ended peacefully.

After all, I was reminded, this was Sitra, known as the heart of the Bahraini revolution.

Note: The author is a human rights volunteer and requested their identity remain anonymous for security purposes.

Bahraini doctor to speak at protest today at 1pm at Royal College of Surgeons and Dáil Eireann

Irish Anti-War Movement

Irish-trained medica to be sentenced on June 14

IAWM says freedom and justice for the Bahraini people

In a statement issued this morning the Irish Anti-war Movement (IAWM) called on its members and the general public to join in the protest organised by Witness Bahrain Ireland for today at 1pm at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and later at Dáil Eireann, to highlight the plight of the Irish trained Bahraini doctors and other medical staff who are due to be sentenced in a few days time.

Dr. Nada Dhaif, who has flown in from Bahrain to highlight the mistreatment of the Irish trained medics, will speak at the protest and later at a Press Conference at 4pm in Buswells Hotel.

The IAWM statement condemned both the RCSI’s silence of this persecution of members of its Alumni and the silence of the Irish Government regarding the mistreatment of these Irish trained medics and of the general Bahraini population who are seeking justice and freedom from a corrupt dictatorial regime.

The statement noted that the Bahraini revolution has not received similar levels of interest and coverage of the revolutions in other Arab countries from western politicians and the media. The ordinary Bahrainis, including medical professionals doing their job of treating the wounded and saving lives, have suffered the most horrific repression, including killings, imprisonment and torture, from a despotic and corrupt regime.

Jim Roche, PRO of the IAWM said:

The protest today is very important, both to highlight the plight of the Bahraini people, and in particular the Irish trained medics, who have suffered horrific suppression from the unelected Al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain, and also to highlight the silence of western powers in the face of this suppression. The US and Britain is siding with the regime in its oppression of its citizens through its silent complicity over its ally’s crimes and through continuation, and indeed escalation, of arms sales. Today’s protest will send a message of hope and support to the people of Bahrain – and the IAWM is calling on western powers to stop dealing with the despotic regimes of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and to support the ordinary peoples struggle for their basic human rights.

END

For more information:
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 087 414 7906

and

Jim Roche, PRO Steering Committee IAWM, Tel. 087 6472737
John Molyneux Steering Committee IAWM, Tel. 085 7356424
Dary Southern, Coordinator, Steering Committee IAWM, Tel. 085 2776505

Day and Night in a Bahraini jail – Part One

By Radhika Sainath

Radhika Sainath
Radhika Sainath in Gaza City, December 2011

When I graduated from law school, I never imagined that a few years later I would be defending myself in the small Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain – known for its repressive security apparatus and the torture of political prisoners – after being teargassed, arrested, jailed, hit on the head, handcuffed, forced into a stress position and deported.

And I consider myself lucky.

I got up Saturday morning, exhausted but excited. Today would be the first of a series of ongoing attempts by Bahraini democracy activists to retake Pearl Roundabout, Bahrain’s Tahrir Square. The regime had killed dozens, demolished the Pearl monument and turned the site into a closed military zone last year after thousands had camped out there requesting freedom, democracy and equal rights.

We had just launched Witness Bahrain – an initiative to monitor, document and stand in solidarity with democracy activists – the day before and leading Bahraini human rights activists such as Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawajahad requested that we attend the peaceful march.

We left early from the outer Shia villages for Bahrain’s capital, Manama, for a house in the old city. Police had already started setting up checkpoints for the afternoon protest. The meeting site for the march was top-secret so that it would not be leaked to the police. At the designated hour, 3 p.m., Nabeel would tweet to his 100,000 plus followers—about 10% of the population of Bahrain—where to go.

But there was a problem. One of the local human rights activists in on the meeting place had mistakenly given the information to the press. The Bahraini activists quickly met and decided on new location. The tweet went out.

Nabeel asked that Witness Bahrain monitors each accompany a different human rights leader. Once at the site, we would each focus on various tasks, photographing, videotaping and tweeting. My job was to tweet from @WitnessBahrain.

Zainab headed out, then Nabeel. I was to accompany Syed Yousif Almuhafda, a handsome young human rights activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who had gone into hiding for two months last year and was fired from his job for participating in democracy protests.

S. Yousif peaked out of the metal door into the alley.

“Back, back,” he said. The police were in the alley! We slipped off our shoes and scurried back into the house.

After a few minutes we head out again, I at S. Yusef’s side, and my colleague Kate Rafael farther back with recently-released Naser Al Raas and others. We head out of the house, turning right, then left, down twisting allies, backing up as the people in the street warned us that the police were near. Indian shopkeepers stood outside of their stores of saris, curries and electronic appliances, faces colored with curiosity as my eyes met theirs.

S. Yousif and I spilled out into one of Manama’s broader streets. We continued walking fast, looking straight forward as we passed modern banks and commercial buildings. I kept my eyes straight ahead and ignored the glitz of downtown Manama.

We had lost Kate, Naser and others, but we did not want to stop. We entered some sort of plaza and saw a few policemen to our left. I wondered if we should turn back—S. Yousif’s face was well-known—but he simply veered around them, walking with the pace of New York City commuter. A Citibank could be seen across the street.

“If they asked us what we are doing we can say you need to go the bank,” he said. “Where are they?”

“I don’t know and I don’t want to keep looking back.” I said. He nodded in agreement. It looked suspicious.

We kept on until I saw another bank where ATM machines stood behind a large glass window facing the street.

“Maybe I can go withdraw some money in that bank and you can look out the window,” I said. We entered and I inserted my ATM card. As the machine took me through various menus, I saw Kate and Naser arrive. I quickly head out. There was Nabeel, surrounded by a growing crowd of democracy activists outside the Standard Bank.

I sent out two tweets from @WitnessBahrain and the march towards Pearl started. I tried to stay mostly to the side, so I could see what was going on. The peaceful marchers chanted “Down with [King] Hamad,” while waving red and white Bahraini flags. We were almost immediately met by riot police dressed in blue and white, carrying large automatic weapons.

They fired multiple rounds of teargas canisters, straight at the crowd—one of which flew within inches of my colleague Huwaida Arraf’s face.

“Police teargas nonviolent march now in #manama #BAHRAIN,” I tweeted. I wondered if they would start firing birdshot at us as they had done in the past. But I tried to stay, watch and tweet as the fumes enveloped us and the crowd ran, fumbling with a teargas mask given to me earlier.

It was my first experience with such equipment; at prior visits to villages earlier that week, I had used homemade remedies, inhaling onions, vinegar, wrapping my scarf around my nose and mouth and having milk thrown at my face. Surely this magic alien machine would make me impervious!

Alas it did nothing, and I felt my eyes sear as I gagged on the fumes, gasping for air as burning tears and snot ran down my face. I couldn’t see, but I needed to tweet. I was getting snot on the iPad as I followed the marchers running through the allies as the police chased after them. I paused between the flow of tears and tweeted: Choking on teargas as police chase peaceful protesters #Babrain #ARABSPRAING. My spelling was terrible, iPads and teargas don’t mix.

I followed the people through allies, hoping to escape the teargas until I stumbled upon several Bahraini police surrounding a woman in a black headscarf and flowing black abaya throwing her arms around a young man, perhaps her son, crying out in Arabic as they screamed at her.

Through the tears and the burning I tried to tweet a video of the youth, but the iPad was slipping. Then the police left the boy, and surrounded me. They were all Pakistani, mercenaries brought by the regime to put down protesters.

“You can’t photo,” one said.

“I’m not. I couldn’t get it to work,” I said putting the iPad away. They closed in and my back was against the wall. The women of the alley watched from balconies and corners.

“You are lucky you are Indian,” said one of the policeman. “If you were from Bahrain we would arrest you.”

My mind raced, how would Pakistani Sunni in a Bahraini police force feel towards an Indian Hindu at a mostly-Shia’a democracy march? There did seem to be a common South Asian bond, but I decided to air on the side of caution. “Oh I’m American,” I said. “But my parents are from India.”

They started questioning me about my attendance at the protest how I go there and why I was present. Did I know they were saying bad things about the Bahraini regime, that they were chanting down with Hamad.”

“Do they allow people to say bad things about the government in America?” asked one. The others nodded at his logic, certain that I would now understand the outrageousness of the protesters’ actions.

“Of course. People said bad things about George Bush all the time. They hated Bush. And now lots of people protest against Obama.”

They were quiet, and I pressed on, telling them that I was in their country, Pakistan, a few years ago supporting the lawyer’s democracy movement. “The people hated Musharraf, and they went to the street.” I hoped I played my cards right—what if these guys liked Musharraf? But nobody liked Musharraf. I watched their eyes blink in understanding. They hated their dictatorship, but was supporting another non-democratic regime.

Eventually, they left, taking the youth with them. The woman thanked me, if I had not been there, perhaps they would have taken her too.

I walked back towards where protesters had re-gathered. Little did I know that in the next few minutes, I would not escape so easily.

Six US citizens arrested in Bahrain, to be deported

Contact Witness Bahrain to schedule an interview.

For Immediate Release

[Manama, Bahrain] Six US Citizens were arrested by Bahraini security forces in Manama on Tuesday during a peaceful protest on the way to the Pearl Roundabout. Protesters had marched into the city center to reestablish a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest on the one year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain.

The international observers were in Bahrain as part of Witness Bahrain, an effort aimed at providing civilian presence to report and monitor the situation on the ground (witnessbahrain.org). Leading up to February 14, the one year anniversary of pro-democracy protests, Bahraini authorities had prevented journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from entering the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown.

Just yesterday, Secretary of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that the US wanted to see the “security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards.” But she failed to condemn the violent arrests of US international observers, the detainment of numerous Bahraini pro-democracy activists (including President of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab) and the ongoing use of overwhelming amounts of tear gas.

The six US citizens were part of a peaceful protest marching towards the Pearl Roundabout – site of last year’s peaceful round-the-clock protest in Bahrain, modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square – when they were attacked. Bahraini authorities appear to have targeted the Witness Bahrain observers, as one volunteer was told that she was detained for reporting on the February 11th Manama protest.

The six observers remain in Bahraini custory in the Naem Police Station in Manama. This group of internationals is the second to be deported by the Bahraini government. Attorneys Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were deported on Saturday, February 11th. The two were handcuffed for the duration of their flight from Bahrain to London.

Several international observers remain on the ground.

Video

Biographies of the six arrested international observers:

Kate Rafael works at a San Francisco law firm and is a radio journalist, blogger and political activist from Oakland, California.

Flo Razowsky is photographer and community organizer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist with Witness Bahrain and several Palestine solidarity organizations.

Linda Sartor teaches graduate school, and is a community activists based out of Northern California. She has been a human rights activist in Palestine, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan and Bahrain.

Paki Wieland is a retired social worker/family therapist educator in the Department of Applied Psychology, Antioch University, Keene, New Hampshire. Since the 1960s, she’s also been a dedicated anti-war and civil rights activist.

Mike Lopercio is a restaurant owner from Arizona and has visited Iraq with a Military Families delegation.

Brian Terrell lives and works at Strangers and Guests Farm in Maloy, Iowa. He is a long time peace activist and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

NABEEL RAJAB EXPLAINS WHY HE IS TAKING HIS FAMILY TO PEARL ROUNDABOUT

After attempting yesterday to march with a few hundred people to Freedom Square, only to be blocked by scores of riot police, today Nabeel Rajab decided to try another approach. He set out with only his immediate family — his wife and two children, with a few supporters nearby — to walk to Pearl (Lulu) Roundabout. Near the entrance to the blocked roundabout, they were attacked with tear gas. Listen as Nabeel explains what he is trying to accomplish with this simple walk.

 

US HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEPORTED; RETURN TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT BAHRAIN SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT

Government Cracks Down on International Witnesses as Bahrainis Prepare for Return to Pearl Roundabout

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Adam Shapiro +353-85-236-0262 (in Ireland)
Jessica Rafael: +973-3345-1787 (in Bahrain)

February 12, 2011

Huwaida Arraf
Huwaida Arraf

(Manama) – Radhika Sainath and Huwaida Arraf, arrested yesterday while filming police repression of a peaceful demonstration in Manama, have been deported by the Bahraini government.

At approximately 10:00 am this morning, Ms Sainath and Ms Arraf were put on a plane for New York via London, less than eighteen hours after being taken into custody by Bahraini riot police. They were handcuffed behind their backs during the eight-hour flight to London. Ms. Sainath reported being punched in the head three times.

The two women, both US citizens, were arrested on Saturday during a peaceful protest near the Standard Chartered Bank in downtown Manama. Protesters had marched into the city center to assert a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest leading up to the 1-year anniversary of the Arab Spring movement in Bahrain for equality and democracy.

Both were charged with being present at a gathering of “more than five people with intent to riot,” illegal assembly and engaging in “acts other than tourist acts” while on a tourist visa. Their cameras and computers were confiscated and searched, and police photographed personal information including credit cards and journals.

Radhika Sainath
Radhika Sainath

As the February 14 anniversary approaches, Bahraini authorities have become more aggressive about excluding journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown. Radhika and Huwaida are a part of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which arrived in Bahrain in response to a call by Bahraini democracy activists for international observers.

Yesterday, the Bahraini government also blocked access to the website of Witness Bahrain and announced that other members of the group were being sought by police so they could be deported as well.

Radhika and Huwaida will be available for interviews in the coming week to discuss what they witnessed in Bahrain.

Witness Bahrain includes activists from Iowa, Northern California (Sonoma County), San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Minneapolis, Western Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia.

American citizens arrested in Bahrain during peaceful protest

American Citizens Arrested in Bahrain during Peaceful Protest, Huwaida Arraf & Radhika Sainath in Police Custody

For Immediate Release

(Manama) – US Citizens Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were arrested by Bahraini security forces in Manama on Saturday during a peaceful protest in near the Standard Chartered Bank downtown. Protesters had marched into the city center to reestablish a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest leading up to the 1-year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain.

Huwaida and Radhika were in Bahrain as part of an international solidarity effort aimed at providing an international civilian presence to report and monitor the situation on the ground. Leading up to February 14, Bahraini authorities had prevented journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from entering the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown. The two women are part of the Witness Bahrain initiative (www.witnessbahrain.org), which arrived in Bahrain in response to a call by Bahraini democracy activists for international observers.

Just yesterday, top US human rights envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, called on the Bahraini authorities to respect the rights of Bahrainis to peaceful protest and to refrain from using excessive force. Huwaida was dragged away by numerous security forces after sitting on the ground, and it is widely reported that detainees have suffered physical abuse while on the way to and at police stations.

Both women were part of a peaceful protest marching near the Pearl Roundabout – site of last year’s peaceful round-the-clock protest in Bahrain, modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square – when they were attacked. Both are human rights lawyers, and both have experience as human rights activists in Palestine. Additionally, both were part of the National Lawyer’s Guild delegation to Gaza following Operation Cast Lead to investigate possible war crimes and illegal use of American weaponry on a civilian population.

Take action to free National Lawyers Guild members detained in Bahrain!
Click here to act now to call for the release of Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath

For more information:
Twitter: @WitnessBahrain
Facebook: WitnessBahrain
YouTube: Witness Bahrain

For press inquiries:
Email: info [- @ -] witnessbahrain.org or use our Contact Form

Press Reports

Journey to the Revolution

By Radhika Sainath

Grafitti
Grafitti On Wall Near Shia Village Read Down Hamad Feb 14

It all started with a simple New Year’s Eve email. I had recently quit my job as a civil rights attorney in California, moved to New York, was finally getting settled in the City and had emailed a friend about the February Bar Exam.

“How wedded are you to being in New York in February?” Adam asked. He explained that democracy activists in Bahrain, where he had spent some time filming in December, were requesting the presence of foreigners with experience getting teargassed, shot at and otherwise attacked, to stand with them at nonviolent protests in the lead-up to the first year anniversary of the revolution.

I had just such experience.

A small group of us were on the initial Skype call with human rights activists from Bahrain. A doctor who I only knew by the name of A* explained how security forces would attack Shia villages with teargas and birdshot on a daily basis, break into houses at night and toss teargas canisters into tightly packed homes, arresting anyone suspected of involvement in the democracy movement.

Would we come and stay in these villages? Surely, the government would behave differently if Americans and Europeans were watching.

I was shocked to hear that things were still so bad and intrigued at his proposal.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island of only 1.2 million people, nearly 700,000 of whom are foreign nationals. Its name means “two seas” in Arabic. My uncle, aunt and cousin had lived there in the 1980s. I had long heard of the county’s repressive security apparatus, beautiful beaches and tasty biryanis.

Last year, as most of the world was focused on Arab Spring Movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, my eyes were turned to the protesters in Pearl Roundabout. These people had guts. What were they thinking? A democracy movement in the Gulf?

Indeed, the government acted with force, teargassing and shooting at protesters sleeping at Pearl Roundabout, killing dozens and arresting the doctors who operated on the injured. Neighboring Saudi Arabia sent in its army; a democracy next door might give their own population ideas. The United Arab Emirates helped out with 500 police. Marital law was implemented and hundreds of people accused of being active with democracy movement were arrested and tortured.

But for a full year, the people have continued to take the street, demanding justice.

Our team came together: attorneys, human rights activists, social workers, journalists and others who had experience with nonviolent resistance and democracy movements in Mexico, Palestine, Pakistan and the United States.

But would the government of Bahrain let us in? Our contacts in Bahrain, which included prominent human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, was sure their phones were bugged. Perhaps their email was being watched too.

I bought my ticket, and six days later found myself on an 18 hour journey to the Gulf. We were nervous. Our first people were denied after lengthy questioning. In January, the government had told human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch that they would not be allowed to enter in January, and a number of journalists and other human rights workers were denied entry into the country.

Would they let me in? The anniversary of the revolution was a week away. All foreigners were suspect. I got my hair done, and my nails too. I memorized Dr. Mohamed and Zaynab’s phone numbers. I had never looked so good walking off a plane, or really anywhere else, except maybe my wedding.

They let me in, no questions asked.

When we got out of customs in the middle of the night, no one was there to pick us up. I looked around. I waited. Two young men were sitting near the Dairy Queen with no luggage. Could it be them? I called Dr. A.

“Wait there,” he said. We waited. We exchanged money. Finally, our contacts found us. Dr. A had not told them our names, nationalities or ethnicities for risk of exposure.

We got on the freeway. Bahrain, even by night, reminded me of Los Angeles of another era, with its slender palm trees and coastal highways, but without the traffic, congestion and urban sprawl.

We left Manama for the infamous Costa Coffee of the Budaiya highway, meeting place of young revolutionaries and the government spies that watch them. Dr. A’s car pulled up in the parking garage and followed our car to a Shia village where we would be spending the night.

The village walls were covered in Arabic graffiti.

“What does that say?” I asked, attempting to sound out the letters of the words.

“Yascot Hamad,” they said. Down with Hamad. As in King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, of the Al Khalifa family which has ruled Bahrain since 1783. Those words were treason.

Our car passed through the winding village streets until we arrived at a walled-off house. I got out of the car and there was Dr. A in a hoodie and jeans, tall and skinny with large intelligent eyes.

“I’m so glad you made it,” he said. We were in.

Silence as Bahraini children are stabbed and gassed

By Tighe B.

Injuries sustained by protester courtesy of Bahraini security services.
Injuries sustained by protester courtesy of Bahraini security services.

As part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink, I visited the village of Bani Jamrah with local Bahraini human rights activists.

In one of the many horrific cases we heard, a 17-year-old boy Hasan, his friend and his 8-year-old brother left their home to go to the grocery store. As they were entering the store they noticed some other youngsters running. Fearing the police would be following them, they decided to wait in the store. The 8 year old hid behind a refrigerator. The police entered the store with face masks on. They grabbed the older boys, pulling them out of the store and into the street.

Once outside the shop the police began to beat them with their sticks and hit them on the head, shouting obscenities and accusations. The police were accusing them of having been involved with throwing Molotov cocktails, asking over and over “Where are the Molotov cocktails?”

The four policemen, all masked and wearing regulation police uniforms, took turns beating the boys while one was instructed to keep watch to make sure no one was video taping. They seemed to be very concerned that there be no witnesses. Quickly, they forced the boys into the waiting police car. Inside the police vehicle was another youth about 18 who appeared to be “Muhabharat,” or plain-clothes police thugs associated with many dictatorships in the Middle East.

As the car sped off, the boys were told to keep their heads down “or we will kill you.” Soon they arrived at an open lot away from possible onlookers. As the two boys were being pulled from the car, the policeman who seemed to be in the charge shouted, “Make them lie down.” Once they were face down on the ground, the policemen took out their knives and stabbed both boys in the left buttock, leaving a gaping wound. The police thugs continued their “questioning”, using profanity to scare their victims. They threatened the boys that they would go to jail for 45 days for “investigation” and that they would never go back to school or get work.

When the thugs realized that they had no choice but to leave these victims, since they had no knowledge of the Molotovs, they searched them to see what they could steal. They took the boys’ mobile phones and asked them to hand over whatever money they had. When they discovered that the boys only had 500fils (about $1.50US), they kicked one of them in the raw wound, laughing as they left them bleeding.

“Who are these masked police and why would they do such things to children?”, you might ask. The boys said they were Syrian immigrants, part of a mostly foreign police force imported by the government and paid to inflict pain on the local people to dissuade them from protesting for their rights.

I asked if the police checked their hands, or smelled their clothes to detect the presence of petrol, since they were accusing the boys of carrying Molotov cocktails. Hussan, laying uncomfortably on his stomach, still in his bloody pants, answered, “No, they made no investigation. These police don’t investigate, they only accuse and punish. We had no contact with petrol, we are students.”

In the corner of the room was Husan’s aunt, holding a little baby that looked very sickly, the red hue of its skin almost burnt looking and its tiny eyes sore and red. I was straining now in my inquiry, like having to push words out my throat. “How old is your child?”, I asked. “Eight months old”, she replied. I knew about the nightly raids in this community, as I happen to be staying less than 200 meters from there and can see the light show each night as hundreds of teargas canisters are shot into this tight grip of middle class houses.

“How do you stop the teargas from getting in the house and affecting your baby?”, I inquired in a pained voice. I, myself, although not in village, feel the effects of the massive clouds of poison that pour over the entire area at night.

“Well, sir, wet towels, we place them each night under the doors,” she answers, as she lights down on the couch near a large flat screen television. “But, sadly, sir, this does not stop the gas. The baby suffers. I try to cover her face with a cloth but she does not like it and cries at the gas and the cloth at the same.”

“One way to stop the gas is to put plastic over the air conditioning unit,” she continued, “but the policemen always cut off the plastic and the gas seeps back inside quickly.”

They showed me a homemade video of those white-helmeted terrorists, using the very same issued knife that they used to cripple the boys, systematically, methodically removing the plastic that was placed to prevent the venomous gas from entering the house. Once removed, they can now shoot the gas, knowing that it will enter the house and poison all inside, especially the kids.

And so it goes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. So it goes in a world so addicted to oil, money and power that children can be stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, terrorized and gassed with nary a word from the outside world.

Are we, in America, so addicted to oil and beholden to powerful Saudis that we will block our ears to the cries of these Bahraini children? Or will we help them grow up in a world where they can know the joy and security that we all want for ourselves? The choice is ours.

Tighe Barry is a member of the peace group CodePink.