Prize-winning Bahraini photographer, Mohammed Al-Shaikh, recalls his arrest and torture

Mohammed Al-Sheikh won his first prize for his photography in Austria back in 2008 for a photo of a small Bahraini child holding a rock in the middle of a chaotic scene on a street in Manama. The boy of no more than 7 years had his entire face, except for his eyes, covered. It was only years later that Mohammed learned who this child of the Bahraini resistance with, a mysteriously strong, determined look in his eyes, was.

Mohammed was more eager to show me his work than to talk about himself. Very modest, every time my friend or I would compliment one of his photos or something he had done, he would find a way to pass on the credit to the fortunate light conditions, the strength of the subject in the photo, or to the Bahraini people in general.

Mohammed began photographing Bahrain in 2008. He photographs the revolution but is careful not to call it “documenting.” To him there is clearly a message to be sent and a need to let the outside world know what is happening in Bahrain. To him his work is an art form, and he considers it highly important that the photos he takes are artistically interesting.

Mohammed Al-Shaikh is one of the many Bahrainis working in media who have been arrested for documenting protests.

His problems started on the 1st of May 2011 when a friend called and told him about an article in a public forum authorized by the Bahraini Ministry of Information stating that Mohammed was a “dirty photographer” and that he was “giving Bahrain a bad reputation.” The article included a picture of him as well as his full name. From that day he knew that he would eventually be captured; he just didn’t know when. The forum, Mohammed explained, is a place where people can give out information about others who they claim are doing something bad for the country.

Mohammed began preparing himself for the arrest. He hid some of his photographic equipment but not everything because it would have been too obvious for the police to go search elsewhere if there was nothing to be found in his house. At the time, Mohammed was employed as an engineer for the company ALBA (Aluminum Bahrain). On the 5th of May his business access card stopped working. He called human resources and they told him that there was an order out on him. They did not give him any further explanation. 640 people were sacked from ALBA during the crackdown; 400 of them were not given any explanation or derive any legal rights from their contracts.

The police came to his house that same day. “I knew they could do anything they wanted so I just sat there to let them take everything,” he said.

The officers were from many different countries. They kept shouting insults at him in English and Arabic but sometimes they had to ask him how to use his electronic equipment in order to search it for information.

He was then taken to a police station where a colonel, Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, was the first one to interview him. At first Khalifa was somewhat friendly to him. Mohammed was asked if he preferred tea or coffee and he was calmly asked what agencies he knew and what agencies he worked for. He felt that the colonel was interested in photos of people in protests in order to identify and arrest them. They also wanted to target people working for specific agencies. Simply being at the Pearl Roundabout gatherings was considered illegal. As the talk with the colonel quickly became unfriendly, they accused Mohammed of fabricating his photos to create a false image of a large number of protesters at the Pearl Roundabout and other protests. He tried to explain to the colonel that a photographer who did that would lose all his professional credibility and never be able to get any of his work published again, but to no avail.

As Mohammed recalled his experiences he would throw in a philosophical or humorous comment from time to time, maybe to keep the trauma from destroying his morale or maybe it was for my benefit – to protect me from the depressing aspect of what I was witnessing. “They told me that I was spoiling the name of Bahrain through my work. They torture and kill peaceful people and yet they tell me that I belong to the ones who are destroying the image of Bahrain. If destroying the image of my country was my goal I would have thanked THEM,” he said shaking his head and laughing at the comic tragedy.

Mohammed was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to another room where he was beaten with plastic sticks for about 2 hours. He explained that the officers systematically intensified the torment starting with lighter weight sticks then using heavier ones as the torture went on.

He was hanged from the ceiling from his knees unable to resist or shield his body from the beatings. The officers pretended to be asking for names and other information but the beatings never paused to wait for a possible answer. After two hours Mohammed was taken to another room; he was still blindfolded. In that room there were about 3-5 other prisoners, but since he couldn’t see anything at the time it was difficult to be sure. There was no water or toilet, but the beating had made his entire body so swollen that he probably wouldn’t have been able to use a toilet anyway, he said. Then eight or nine officers came in with heavy plastic sticks and began beating everyone. He could hear the voice of Colonel Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa. This went on from about 12pm to 7am the next morning. Every 45 minutes the officers made a switch and new officers came to beat them, still without allowing the prisoners to eat, drink or use a toilet. Mohammed was lying on the ground with broken fingers and covered in blood; bleeding from his head not able to do anything but lay there and take more beatings.

When they stopped at 7am it might have been because another detainee arrived, he said. Until 10 am he was still blindfolded. Then someone came and took him and three other detainees to another room where they were fully stripped. Officers came again to continuously beat them with the heavy plastic sticks while they were naked. Afterwards they were allowed to put on their clothes again before they were taken to a prison cell, though Mohammed called it a “room.” “We were not prisoners because we didn’t do anything criminal; and we never had a trial so we didn’t consider ourselves to be living in cells; we called them rooms. It’s a matter of dignity”, he said.

When he came to that “room” in West Rifa’a prison he had some water, which was the first he drank since he was arrested. His skin was blue from the beatings and dried blood. He could hear woman screaming from a floor below him. There were about 75 people in that same room, all of whom had been specifically targeted, all belonging to different groups. Mohammed Al-Shaikh belonged to a “media-group;” then there was the athletics group that included a famous Bahraini athlete by the name of Sayed Hassan, the F1 staff group, and others. Some of the protests were organized so that the people who belong to the same occupation walk together as a group. This had made it easy for informers to identify certain people and give their full names and picture to the regime.

At 6am an officer came to ask for new prisoners to go to another room, which was empty. He and five or six others went. “We were told to stand face the wall; then they came and beat us with heavy plastic sticks for about 15 minutes as a welcoming breakfast” he said with a quiet sarcastic laugh. At 10 o’clock the guards came back and asked them to crawl on their wounded backs back and forth on the floor while the guards watched and insulted them. Then the guards started to walk on them while they still had to try and move on their backs from one end of the room to the other. “There were cameras in the room so everything should be recorded. This means that it has to be systematic. They wouldn’t dare behave like this if they thought there could be any consequences for them if anyone saw the video recordings.” This went on for about one hour. Then they had an actual lunch which was the first meal he had since he was captured three days earlier. “The food was really good. There was daal and hummus and everything was nice and clean. They almost killed me there but when they fed me they fed me well” he said with a smile.

After lunch the new prisoners who looked the worst were asked to go to another room because the military arrived. Their names were called out one by one and they were taken for an interview in another separate room. When it was Mohammed’s turn the officer read through a file about him without informing him much about what it said. There was one quote of a speech Mohammed had given at the Pearl Roundabout that he commented on: “Bahrain TV has one eye. We have a thousand.” Without discussing the meaning of the words the military officer instructed men to beat him up.

The next morning they were transferred to a place with a big wire fence. Until this day Mohammed is not sure where that place was. The colonel came with seven to eight other men. Mohammed’s hair had been cut off and the colonial degradingly said to him: “you look different.” The colonel had some documents with names of people that had to be transferred to a different department; Mohammed was one of them. The officers blindfolded him again and although they didn’t beat him up, they did threaten to rape and kill him.

Mohammed was eventually taken back to West Raffa’a prison. There the abuse continued with both male and female officers beating and cursing him. At one point they took him and other detainees, still handcuffed and blindfolded, to a jeep. Along the way to wherever they were being taken, the jeep stopped at a number of checkpoints. At each checkpoint the police there took off their shoes and put them in the mouths of the detainees. Sand and dirt filled Mohammed’s mouth and face, but he couldn’t get rid of it since he was still handcuffed.

They arrived to a station, which he was told was called the Naa’im police station. His physical condition was visibly poor and the police there asked him who had done this to him? Mohammed did not answer. He spent two days in that station and here he got the first opportunity to call his family. It was only a two-minute call and he didn’t have time to tell them anything except to ask for some clean clothes. He still was not given opportunity to contact a lawyer.

Every 4-6 hours in that Naa’im police station Mohammed was transferred to a different department. He was verbally assaulted but not beaten there. As a result of the beatings Mohammed could not walk properly and he could only sleep in one specific position on the one side of his body.

Then he was taken to a prison called Dry Dock (translated from Arabic). About a hundred and fifty people were there. In each cell there were about fourteen. Mohammed especially remembered one 14 or 15-year-old boy called Hassan. His physical condition was so bad he couldn’t move. They had to transfer him to a hospital in a wheel chair. He couldn’t tell exactly what had happened to the boy but many prisoners were in that cell because they had been injured too badly during a protest or tortured too much for the police stations to have anything to do with them out of fear of being accused to have caused them their physical condition. There were five cases of people who lost an eye completely. Inside the cell arrested medics were treating arrested injured people who were a mix of different groups in society – doctors, students, journalists; there was even someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who had a Bahraini diplomatic passport. He told Mohammed that he had never imagined himself in prison. He had been arrested for posting a message on Twitter stating that Bahrain needed reforms. The manager of the national football team Abd Razzaq Mohammed was also there along with the Bahraini tennis GCC winner, Anwar Maki.

Two days later, with the standard handcuffing, blindfolding, and insults, Mohammed was transferred again. This time he was taken to Qudhaibyia for five nights. Again Mohammad was beaten as police tried to get names and pictures out of him to use to arrest other people. The prisoners were divided in groups at different stations, and Mohammed found himself in a group of arrested photographers. Three of them were taken back to the Central Prison (Dry Dock). Two months later he was seen by a doctor for the first time.

On the 26th of June 2011, without prior notice, or the chance to contact a lawyer, Mohammed was brought before a military court. In the courtroom a judge told Mohammed that there were six charges against him, each one for participating in a protest, and each one carrying a one-year prison sentence. The judge began to name the protests he was accused of attending. After the third one, Mohammed interjected. Laughing, he told the judge that he had been to almost every protest since February 14 until his arrest and if this was his crime, the judge didn’t have to bother mentioning each of them one by one. The judge ignored him and continued naming six protests that he was spotted at and sentencing him to six years accordingly.

He was taken back to the central prison thinking that he was going to spend the next six years there, but then something completely unexpected happened. He was called to a civilian court and given the opportunity to contact a lawyer. His family helped him find a very good one by the name of Sayed Mohsin Alwlawi. On the 21st of October Mohammed was brought before the civilian court and two weeks later he received a call from Adv. Sayed telling him that his case was closed. He didn’t dare to believe what he heard at first and made his lawyer assure him many times that this was really true.

Mohammed Al-Shaikh didn’t complain about the way he was treated when I spoke to him. He simply told his story. He continues to photograph and document the situation in Bahrain, keenly aware of the risk he takes in doing so. Although he didn’t complain about his torture, there was one thing that really bothered him: “They still have my expensive photo equipment. I called many times but no one could tell me where it was. None of the officers even knew how to use it.”

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

Interview with a Bahraini medic, who voluntarily treats injured protesters

Monday, 30 April 2012

Meeting with a Bahraini medic who voluntarily treats injured protesters, mostly in private homes.

The medic who agreed to meet me worked for Bahrain TV as a monitor assistant, before the 14th of February ’11 revolution started. When things got hectic someone from Salmanya Hospital (the main public hospital of Manama) called out in all the Gulf countries for urgent medic volunteers to treat people in need. That’s when his life took a drastic change. He quit his job and chose to become a medic working for the revolution.

He is a very energetic person and very enthusiastic to talk about his work too. When we were introduced to each other by one of my contacts he asked me if I smoked and I replied “ahianan” (“sometimes”; Arabic). “ahhh – today you will smoke with me I think” he assured me. After watching only half of his photos of badly injured people and dead bodies the sometimes indeed was the time for me to smoke a cigarette with him as he had predicted.

He started explaining to me how his work functioned due to the many restrictions to a medic’s work, and due to the great danger in his job of getting put in prison, injured or even killed by the Regime forces. As I have been told many times; patients who need treatment because of accidents as a result protests or anything related to the police can’t go to the hospitals for fear of being targeted by the Regime.

shot in headHe used to live in a 2 room flat with 11 other medic volunteers from the newly founded “medics community” (the authentic name is anonymous). But since the martial law (15th of March – 31th of May ’11**) they have had to work under more secret circumstances and still must maintain this secrecy despite the fact that matial law is not officially in effect. the dates of the martial law is informed to me by the medic and not confirmed from elsewhere) His house had been raided several times, and when he went to stay at his brother’s house that was raided as well. “The police shot at the house. They came in and took everything. They completely cleared the house – even the fridge and the onions from the kitchen table”.

The community is paying all the medical expenses out of their own money and sometimes donations. When they know that there is going to be a protest in a village they wait in an apartment until the village starts sending the injured people to them. Sometimes the injuries are so bad that they have to choose between letting the patient die or send them to a public hospital from where the patient will almost definitely get sent to the police and thus prison. He always chose saving the live.

Shot with teargas canister in headHe told me that so many doctors and medics have gotten arrested or injured in Bahrain that’s it’s becoming a problem to find qualified people to do complicated operations even for patients who are not injured as a result of police brutality. Eye, brain and nerve surgery is especially a lot more difficult go get in Bahrain now. He told me about a 21 year old man who lost his life in a car accident because the hospital he came to no longer had doctors specialized in the type of brain surgery that he needed (see photo).

The medic had a slideshow of photographs showing injured protesters that we watched at the café where we had our meeting. We made sure to leave the screen of the laptop pointing to the wall in the corner behind us, so that it did not show the other café guests the photos. Regardless, I think my facial expressions gave a clear impression that we were not watching pleasant vacation photos. I’ve worked in war zones and seen injuries before but the cold hearted way these people were injured was brutal. I think I smoked 5-7 cigarettes since he started showing me the photos while explaining how each incident Petrol on bodyhappened, how it was treated and in many cases how the patient was doing today. I felt really uncomfortable. A strong sadness planted itself in my chest. It’s possible to imagine why a government is trying to keep down an uprising, and why police officers, who might be scared, do brutal things in a desperate situation, but the way some of these cases looked, even children, it was rough. The whole time I was writing down the details in my little notebook. When a meeting is in English I normally write my notes in English too to avoid spending time on translation and to get the quotes exact, but I suddenly realized that I had begun writing in my mother tongue. The medic looked at me and smiled “I am used to this now”.

We finally watched all the photos and he burned me a cd for my blog. They invited me for a sandwich or an ice cream somewhere but the thought of eating was not very tempting at that moment and I had a lot to write. I gave my farewell and we arranged for me to go with him on a working day as soon as it was suitable for both of us. As I walked to the place I’m staying the warm breeze of the Bahraini April night sort of cleared my thoughts from all the sadness and I got my mind straight for work again.

** Source for dates of martial law:

Interview with Wafi Kamel Al-Majed, husband of imprisoned human rights activist, Zainab Al-Khawaja

Interview with Wafi Kamel Al-Majed, husband of imprisoned human rights activist, Zainab al-Khawaja 

Wafi Al-Majed
Wafi Al-Majed

In the hall of Wafi’s father’s house, where Wafi is staying with his 2-year-old daughter Jude, there were two big photos decorating the wall, one of Zainab, and one of Wafi on their graduation day. They both wore huge smiles, looking like any other new, young graduates with bright and promising futures ahead of them…

I asked Wafi about his wife’s current condition and the visit he had to the prison where Zainab is being held. It was just the day before, on Sunday 29 April at 12:30, that he had been allowed his first visit since Zainab’s arrest a week before. He and little Jude, two of Zainab’s sisters, and Zainab’s mother, Khadija, had gone together. A prison guard brought Zainab into the little visiting room and stayed in the room for the duration of the half-hour visit. Zainab told her family how she had been beaten by the police during her arrest. Riot police surrounded her as she kneeled on the ground, and proceeded to kick her with their boots and jab her with their police batons. Although the police filmed her arrest, the camera focused on her face and upper body, while police aimed their attacks at her lower body. Other protesters had also told Wafi that the police filmed the arrest, but not from the ground when Zainab was being abused. Zainab shouted at them, “why are you treating us like dogs” to which a police woman responded by putting her baton to Zainab’s neck and choking her.

“[Zainab] is a very strong woman. I think I was the weakest one at that point,” said Wafi. “I’m not too worried about her when she is in prison because I know how strong she is. I’m more worried about how our daughter will cope with this later in her life, having had both her mother and father in prison at different times during her childhood.” Wafi had been arrested at the same time as his father-in-law, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and spent 10 months in prison.

During the visit they spoke freely, despite the presence of the prison guard. The newly acquired news about Abdulhadi al-Khawaja – that he was still alive and doing okay was, at that moment, almost as good news to the whole family as if he would have been released. For the previous six days, Abdelhadi had been considered missing, the government not allowing anyone, not even the Danish ambassador (since Abdelhadi is also a citizen of Denmark) or his lawyer to have any contact with him. Fears had spread that perhaps Abdelhadi had died. Zainab had been especially worried, locked up not knowing anything; both she and her mother became emotional talking about him, Wafi explained.

Wafi has a very good relationship with his father-in-law. He told me about when they had been prisoners together in Juw prison. They had not been allowed to see each other from April 2011, when they were first arrested, until their first meeting in prison in December 2011. “That moment was a moment of celebration for us. We hadn’t seen each other since the day we both got arrested and we finally got a chance to exchange the stories of what had happened since and what news we knew about the situation in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja is a very impressive man.”

Wafi chose not to go deep into detail about his time in prison, but he did recall the first visit he had been allowed from his wife two months after he had been captured. Wafi finds it easier for to be the one inside prison than to be the one outside worrying about how a loved one is doing locked up inside. “I didn’t cry then. I needed to be strong so as to not get people on the outside too worried about me,” he explained.

I asked him for his thoughts on the future of Bahrain and about his hopes.

“How much does freedom cost?” he asked, and then he replied to his own question: “a lot, but it seems that we have to pay more. Throughout the history of mankind, no ruler has been able to overrule his own people. Eventually the oppressor falls. The story only differs in how long of a time it will take and how high a cost must be paid.”

He told me that the Arab Spring gave the Bahrainis a lot of strength; particularly Egypt since no one had ever thought the fall of Mubarak was near.

“There is nothing they can do to silence us now and make us forget our rights. Everything already happened to us. Worst-case scenario, they will send F16s over us… but we don’t care anymore. We are not afraid. We want our freedom.”

As for Wafi’s hopes for “when the revolution has succeeded,” as he put it. “I don’t care if we become a Constitutional Monarchy or whatever – as long as the people can choose who’s in power. Even if they choose Al-Khalifa,” he smiled, almost laughing, and added, “though I don’t think his chances would be very high now.”

What did he think of the role of the international community in general, and what kind of international reaction would he wish for?

We neither want nor need the international society to interfere with any of this. We just need them to stop supporting the dictatorship that is killing and torturing us and treating us worse than animals. The Americans could stop this whole thing right now if they just made one phone call to tell the Khalifa family that relations would be suspended until a government had been democratically elected. But they don’t do that.

After the interview, Jude, came into the room where we were sitting. She was a bit frightened by us strangers in the house and it didn’t help much that we wanted to get a picture of her. After about five to ten minutes she relaxed in our presence and started to laugh loudly when her father teased her. I hope that one day on a wall here in Bahrain, there will be a photo of sweet little Jude on her graduation day, with a big smile on her face, looking forward to a bright and promising future.



Khadija Al-Mousawi (@tublani2010), wife of Bahraini hunger striker Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and mother of leading activist Zainab Al-Khawaja (@angryarabiya) gives press conference to discuss her visit to her husband in hospital and daughter in prison. Additionally, Ms. Al-Mousawi discusses the latest legal developments in Abdulhadi’s case in which the Bahraini court declared a retrial without releasing her husband.

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 ( 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.


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.