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.
Government Cracks Down on International Witnesses as Bahrainis Prepare for Return to Pearl Roundabout
For Immediate Release
Adam Shapiro +353-85-236-0262 (in Ireland)
Jessica Rafael: +973-3345-1787 (in Bahrain)
February 12, 2011
(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.
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, 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.
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.
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.