Dublin Solidarity Demonstration in Anticipation of Sentencing
Public Notice / Media Advisory
[DUBLIN] Join Witness Bahrain Ireland this Tuesday for a demonstration in support of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers persecuted by the Bahrain regime for doing their jobs.
Following pro-democracy protests in February and March of 2011, doctors, nurses and other medical and health care workers in Bahrain, some of them trained in Ireland, were arrested, tortured and sentenced by a military court for treating injured demonstrators. Following the military court verdict, sentencing some of the doctors and nurses to 15 years in prison, the health professionals were retried in ‘Special Civilian Courts’ for multiple charges against the Regime. They now await their ultimate verdict, which is expected on Thursday 14th June, 2012.
We will hold a vigil outside the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) at 1pm on Tuesday 12th June to highlight the plight of RCSI’s Alumni and Staff, as well as to protest RCSI’s silence in the face of this persecution. We will then proceed to Dail Eireann to lobby public representatives. At 4PM we will hold a Press Conference at Buswells Hotel, where we will be joined via Skype by some medical workers from Bahrain.
“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.
The peoples call for a change of the system in Bahrain is not a new phenomenon. Every ten years since the 1920′s there has been an uprising. Every uprising had its own form and goals but every time it dealt with the issue of corruption in the country and the lack of influence on the ruling Khalifa family monarchy in power.
This decade’s uprising sparked talk of conspiracies in the media and among every-day Bahrainies. The government claims it is a matter of sectarian issues and the opposition is being paid by the Iranian theocratic Shia regime. The opposition responds that the government is trying to encourage sectarian violence in order to keep people busy fighting each other. The government also wants to make international society believe this conflict is an internal affair, which the Khalifa family is perfectly capable of solving.
No international press or NGO’s are currently allowed in the country unless they can be carefully watched by the government. I have to be discreet about my presence here. It’s impossible for me to meet pro-government supporters to hear their point of view. The best way for me to gain an understanding of the broad public scene is to cover stories of people who have not actively taken part in the revolution, people who watched the drastic changes in the society around them.
You hear stories about how the difference between Shia or Sunni backgrounds matter. You hear about the days when they didn’t even think about what background they came from. Sunni and Shia communities were good friends and neighbors. They sometimes married each other regardless of their religious differences. Government propaganda is being spread that targets the Shia minority, blaming them for destroying the country on religious grounds with help from the Iranian regime. Many Shia Bahrainis have lost their jobs in the public sector only to be replaced by Sunni Bahrainis or people from outside the country. This is helping create tension between the two groups – and it’s increasing. The opposition is clear that the uprising has nothing to do with sectarian conflicts or Iran in any way; this is pure conspiracy theory created to silence the Bahrain’s majority calling for democracy.
Julian Assange interviewed one of the leading figures in the Bahraini human rights activism, president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab. Rajab stated: “[That Iran is fueling the revolution] is what our government is saying. The Americans are maybe trying to buy that as well. … [The revolution has remained absent in big parts of the media] because Al-Jazeera [Arabic] for instance is ruled by a similar ruling family in the same region. A democracy in Bahrain is going to have an impact in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia. … A revolution in Bahrain is the last thing the Saudis want to see a few miles away from their boarder.”
In Jabalat Habshi, a village with a Shia majority, I met some people in a flat to let them share their stories with me. Five people from different families gathered. They had never really been interested in politics and had not participated in any of the demonstrations. However, they strongly felt the tensions in society. It has completely changed their lives and views on their future.
“S” is a dental assistant student. Before the 16th of March 2011 she was living a peaceful life minding her own business and focusing on her studies and social life. On that day her younger brother was randomly captured by military officers in his village and imprisoned. No one heard from him for two weeks. The family had no clue where he was or what happened to him. They received a call stating that their son was having a trial that same day. The officer would not give any information about what the 18-year-old boy was accused of, where he was or about his condition. When the family got to the court room and saw their son his four-year-old brother couldn’t recognize him because he had been badly tortured. He explained that he had been captured on the street on his way home. They military officers had a Saudi logo on their uniforms and they didn’t speak with a Bahraini accent. They took him to a police station where he was beaten and tortured. His body was swollen and the wounds changed his appearance so much that his younger brother didn’t recognize him. At that time even the boy himself did not know what he was accused of and was not given the opportunity to call anyone or to find himself a lawyer.
The first time his case was explained to him was that day in the court room, after two weeks of captivity and beating. There were nine detainees in the courtroom, all accused in the same case. One of the mothers fainted when she saw her son who was also tortured. “S”’s brother knew one of the other detainees, who was someone from the neighborhood. “S” didn’t believe that her brother was being accused of committing organized crime with people he had never met before. The trial was postponed again and again for the first six months. The close family visited him every three weeks. “It has been so hard to say goodbye each time,” “S” said. It was obvious that it was also difficult for her to talk about it. “They don’t allow you to hug him. He is in another room and you have to talk to him through a hole in the wall. He is strong, but it’s hard for us at home.”
There is no evidence against any of the detainees in the case, which appears to be the reason why the case keeps getting postponed. At the first trial, which happened in military court, they were sentenced to twenty years but on the 20th of June 2011 they made an appeal to a higher civil court and the sentence was reduced to fifteen. All nine confessed to the accusations under torture. Two months ago the details of the torture was mentioned in the court which made “S”‘s mother stop coming to see her son at his trials, because she can’t handle the emotions listening to what they are doing to her son. The case was mentioned in the Bassiouni report but still nothing has been done to get the detainees out of prison until they can get a fair trial.
“S” explained that her brother’s absence is especially hard for her mother and the oldest one of her younger brothers, who is now seventeen. The seventeen-year-old brother, who is now the oldest boy in the house, feels a lot of pressure on him and developed a mental paranoia condition towards strangers, especially the police. “S” says that no one in the family ever cared about politics before but that every one of them now supports the opposition. Her thirteen-year-old brother once saw the case mentioned on state television and started crying. Now he doesn’t believe anything he sees or hears from the government. She believes that her brother was captured as a strategy of accusing random Shia Muslims of crimes to have material for anti-revolution propaganda.
The strategy of targeting random Shia Muslims is not always related to a crime. “LB”, another woman in the room, started her story by telling me how her seven-year-old daughter recently asked her when she could have the old Bahrain back. “I almost couldn’t make myself tell her that the old Bahrain might never come back,” she said. By the old Bahrain she is referring to the time when Shia and Sunni Muslims lived in peace and trusted each other. “LB” moved her eleven-year-old son to a different school because many of his Sunni class mates don’t want his friendship since the government propaganda started. “One kid took a knife to school one day and he told people that it was to stab some Shias because they were traitors. They are just kids. Why do they have to worry about if their friends are Sunni or Shia,” she said, clearly frustrated. The kid was suspended from school for a certain period but “LB” still didn’t feel that her son was safe enough in that school anymore.
In April 2011, during the Roundabout days, there was a protest in front of “LB”’s office building, the Ministry of Health. She passed the protest and went to her office as usual but on this day police surrounded the building and took her and most of her Shia-colleagues through a long event of personal insults, humiliation and beatings. The police had a list of names, and her’s was on the list. All the people from the list were later taken to the police station and accused of protesting even though all of them were at work and couldn’t have attended the protest.
In her own office she was first personally insulted with racist remarks and beaten up by the police. “LB” still doesn’t know what the specific meaning of having ones name on that list meant, but the person who reported her was a Sunni-colleague. She found out because that person was in her office laughing at the event of “LB” being beaten, insulted with especially racist remarks and humiliated by the police officers. The employees from her section who had their name on the list were then told to sit on the floor in the hall in front of the chairs because “they did not deserve” to sit on government chairs and then they were asked to sing the national song while the officers were insulting them. A lot of very humiliating events then took place, events that are hard to imagine how anyone would come up with. At one point the officers even had “funny” masks and costumes that they put on to play with her. They also let dogs sniff their bodies as they were handcuffed and unable to protect themselves while laying or still sitting on the floor. In the end they were all suspended from work for 9 months without any letter or anything to clarify any reason for this treatment. Later some of them got a new position in the health sector, but a lower one. “LB” knows about some of the replacements of her and her colleagues in the Ministry of Health. “Young people from outside of the country with much less experience than us who used to work there” she said shaking her head as if she almost just felt sorry for the being Ministry.
“This strategy the government is using about making us hate each other. No matter how stupid it is, it seems to be working.”
“LB” used to have a close friend who was Sunni. They never gave their religious differences a thought, but after the accusations on her about protesting, her friend called only to tell her that she was a traitor and that she didn’t want any contact with her anymore.
“I could just tell my daughter that she can have the old Bahrain back again soon. But I’m afraid I would be lying to her then. … I’m so proud of those Bahraini people who are risking their lives to make a change in this country. I can tell my daughter that they are our hope. I can tell her that she can have a new and better Bahrain instead.”
Note: The author is a human rights volunteer and requested their identity remain anonymous for security purposes.
Interview with Maryam Abu Deeb, whose father Mahdi Abu Deeb is in prison in Bahrain. He is president of the Bahrain Teachers Association and was punished for organizing teachers to join in the peaceful protests at Pearl Square in Bahrain in February and March 2011.
Nawal is a young female activist and very talented photographer. We met in a cafe in the middle of Manama. Her mother is what, in Bahraini slang, is called “Sushi” (a child from mixed Shia and Sunni Muslim parents). Nawal is not the first person I’ve met here from a mixed Shia and Sunni family, but until now I haven’t really had time to do a proper interview with anyone about the issue before. The reason I even consider this an issue important enough to write about is that the government claims that the pro-democracy uprising is “Shia-founded terrorism,” and in general has been presenting it as a problem of sectarianism. During my time here I have been trying to meet with Bahrainis from as many different parts of society as possible. Of course, since I face the risk of arrest and deportation as an international observer, researching and writing about what I see here (as happened to Witness Bahrain volunteers before me), it has so far been impossible to meet with committed pro-government people. Despite this I already have a very wide spectrum of contacts. Until now no one has expressed any sort of hatred or even dislike for someone based on religion or race. Not a single person, which I think is worth contemplating.
Nawal has been active since the beginning of the revolution, taking photos and documenting the situation for the international community. Her family is not only a mixture of Sunni and Shia but also of politically aware and active people and those who really don’t seem to care. The whole family meets every week at her Sunni maternal grandmother’s house for lunch or dinner. Before February 24th 2011 she really enjoyed sharing thoughts about politics with her family at these gatherings, but since the revolution things have changed.
Nawal’s uncle (her aunt’s husband) holds a very high position in the Bahrain military. Soon after protests at the Pearl Roundabout began last year, pictures of King Hamed suddenly began adorning the walls in her aunt’s house and the family spoke a lot about how Shia Muslims did things wrong and how bad for the country the protesters were. This was the first time in Nawal’s life she ever felt any difference between the Shia and the Sunni part of her family. She and the rest of the Shia part of the family slowly began to feel less welcome in her aunt’s house, she told me with a bit of frustration in her big brown eyes. The family gatherings still continued but things became even more complicated.
One of Nawal’s cousins started spreading rumors about her and threatening her on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The more “rational people” of the family, as she called them, tried to calm things down but he was so hostile towards her because of her enthusiasm regarding the revolution that he would not let it go at first. He published her full name and a lot of personal information about her such as her address and photos to identify her. He also threatened her by reminding her how much he knew about her. “I even know the size of your clothes – don’t forget,” was one of the things he wrote to her. She had to close the accounts in her original name to end the harassment from him and open new accounts using an alias.
The weekly family gatherings have changed a lot now. They’re not something she looks forward to at all as before. The cousin who was harassing her has stopped his direct offensive behavior but he ignores her. No one talks about politics anymore and the atmosphere is very tense. Nawal considers politics a very important topic for discussion especially
because of what is currently going on in Bahrain, and it is very unnatural to her that they can’t talk about these things at family gatherings anymore. “I don’t think things will ever be the same again in my family” she said sadly taking a deep breath. “It’s so obvious to me. Anyone should be able to understand that what the government is doing to people is wrong”. She completely disagrees with the government’s official analysis stating that the uprising has to do with religious indifferences between Sunni and Shia. “The first one who was arrested in relation to this revolution was a Sunni Member of the Parliament. His name is Mohamed Albuflasa (click for more information). He was pro-democracy and put to prison. Claiming that this has anything to do with Sunni and Shia conflicts is just ridiculous,” she said breathing heavily as if just the thought of that argument exhausted her.
Nawal tells me that the government has such an intense control on people that one can be fired for disseminating news unfavorable to the government’s views on social media. In her own case there is a little less to worry about in terms of
losing her job because she works at an international bank, which would not accept having to fire people for their political opinion. In fact, one of her colleagues had made a list of people in the company who he thought supported the revolution, calling them traitors, in order to spread it and cause them negative repercussions; when the head of the company found out, it was the guy that was immediately fired. For this reason Nawal feels safe in her current job, but unfortunately she has to look for another one due to the international economic crisis. She was offered another place in the same company but that involved some changes to her position in addition to having to move out of the country. Nawal turned it down and will now be unemployed when her contract expires.
”Getting a job, especially as a Shia Muslim, is not easy these days” she said. “The current government won’t permit Shia Muslims to have a good career and most companies prefer hiring someone from outside than a Shia Muslim so as to not have problems with the system here.”
Despite the fact that her economic security is uncertain and that the political situation is not in her favor, Nawal looked positively towards the future. “We will keep fighting for our rights until we get them. And one day those who have mistreated us will claim that they agreed with us all along, only not with our methods,” she said referring to the pro-government camp who she was convinced would eventually turn around and support a government chosen by the people. “As long as the government is chosen by the people they can be Sunni or Shia, black or white we don’t care.”
The day we had chosen to go with a medic to Boori village was a special religious day for Shia Muslims; 13th Jamada Thani 1428 A.H. – the anniversary of the death of Hazrat Fatima bint-e-Hazm bin Khalid (also known as Umm-ul-Baneen) – the wife of Imam Ali (a.s.) and mother of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) which meant than the streets were fairly quiet in comparison to a regular night in a Manama village since 14th of February 2011. The streets were still blocked around the village to slow down possible riot police troops entering the village, but there was no night protest as usual, only an earlier one that took place at 4 pm. People in the streets were singing a traditional song for funerals while synchronically clapping their chest with one hand.
We drove to one of the homes in the village were the medic would later show up. At first there were three injured people and a group of very young guys waiting with their injured friend. As the rumor spread that there was an international in the house documenting cases of injury from protests, more people came; but there was no way I could cover all of the stories and cases of those who came in one night.
As we waited for the medic, I began speaking to 15-year-old Ali. He had been shot all over his body with birdshot pellets while attending a peaceful protest the day before (see photo). When the medic later showed up he told me that when demonstrators had brought the boy to the house the day before, he had been completely covered in blood and almost unconscious.
I used to be a substitute school teacher in primary and secondary schools and young Ali really reminded me of the boys I used to teach, who having done something really cool or special, are excited to tell the rest of the class about it. He was a bit shy at first, being the only one speaking in a room full of his friends and other much older protesters, as well as the family of the house. He didn’t give out any details except for the ones I specifically asked for. But then he opened up more.
The protest involved a little over 100 people, both woman and men, old and young. After the march around the village ended, about 60 people remained outside; that’s when the riot police attacked. They began shooting teargas, aiming directly at the villagers. Some protesters grabbed the teargas canisters with their hands just after they hit the ground and threw them back in the direction of the riot police. The whole center of the village became covered in teargas the boy told me, lifting his eyebrows and his brown eyes wide open, indicating that he was overwhelmed by the details of his own story.
Ali was one of the people picking up teargas canisters to throw them back at the police who were dressed in full riot gear, with helmets, masks and padding protecting their entire bodies.
Then the riot police began shooting birdshot at the crowd of people. They seemed to be randomly firing at the whole crowd, but of course Ali couldn’t tell what their exact strategy was. At least five police officers dressed as civilians also entered the crowd with shotguns and started chasing and shooting at people. He was one of the worst injured people in Boori that night. His body was completely covered in wounds from shots when I spoke to him. In total there were 38 people reportedly injured from birdshot pellets that night throughout Bahrain. Ali was shot around 12:15 at night and taken to a private home in the village were a medic could treat him shortly afterwards.
As I have asked injured protesters before, I asked Ali what the goal from protesting was and if he had changed his views or if his enthusiasm had waned after being injured? He replied (translated from Arabic): “I want a complete change of the regime; I’m not afraid of anything; I’m just proud to serve my country.”
When the medic had arrived Ali got up and sat down in a chair next to him ready to start the process of extracting more bullets from his body. It looked extremely painful and a lot of blood came out while the medic was digging for the bullets. Sometimes small peeps of pain escaped the young boy’s mouth, but in general he bravely endured the process remaining calm and quiet.
Next I spoke to 27-year-old Ammar. He had been shot with birdshot pellets all over his back and his scalp. Some of the bullets were lodged in very dangerous places in his head, the medic told me, and he could not tell if it was possible to remove them due to the swelling.
Ammar was injured on the 1st of May, also in Boori Village. Around 300 people had attended the protest on that evening. At first the riot police fired tear gas all over the center of Boori, just like the night Ali was injured. Then, when the demonstrators dispersed, the police chased people into the village, hiding in different places in an attempt to catch protesters, either to arrest them or hurt them. Ammar and another young man were both being chased when the other guy tried to jump a wall. As he was doing so, he was directly hit with a teargas canister and fell to the ground. After he was down, the police turned their attention on Ammar, shooting him in his back and head, then leaving him wounded on the ground. Covered in blood, Ammar managed to get up and walk to a random private home from where the family helped him get to the house that was serving as a makeshift clinic. A total of 16 bullets were found in his body and at the time of this interview, nine bullets still remained.
Salman, another wounded protester, has been injured several times within the past month. He came to the house only able to walk on one foot, and with scars from tear gas canisters and a sound bomb on one hand and one ear. Another was 21-year-old Abdallah, who was now completely blind in his left eye from a birdshot pellet fired directly into a protesting crowd.
As I didn’t have time to go through all the injured people who had gathered at the house, I only did a couple more short interviews, but made sure to thank everyone for coming to share their experiences. The last person I spoke to was another young man named Ali, 17-years-old. The other guys pushed him towards the chair next to me where the other interviewed people had been sitting and I realized there was something about this case that everyone in the room thought was extremely funny. My translator had to try hard to pull himself together so as to not burst out laughing. Even Ali himself had a big smile on his face and his voice was almost cracking while he explained what happened. When my translator relayed the story I found out that what everyone thought was so funny was that Ali was shot in his butt cheeks. Normally I wouldn’t consider someone getting shot anywhere as a funny story, but the light atmosphere and positive vibrations that filled the room while he was telling his story put me in a good mood, even under these rather sad circumstances. Ali allowed me to photograph part of his back but obviously not the more private parts of his injured body.
After I completed the interviews, the host family brought in a very nice meal with soft drinks for everyone and the whole evening strangely turned into a very nice local gathering with a lot of chatter & laughter. All the while the medic kept removing the bullets from the injured protesters’ bodies. What a night.