Bahraini Activist Defies Threats

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President of Bahraini group says he will continue to campaign against torture and unfair imprisonment, despite intimidation by the security forces.

By Nabeel Rajab - The Arab Spring
Arab Spring No. 11, 18 Apr 11

Karim Fakhrawi, one of the founders of the opposition movement al-Wefaq and the al-Wassat newspaper, died in custody las week. I went to see his body ahead of the funeral but his brother did not let me; he had been warned not to let anyone see the state of the corpse. But after I left, angry mourners unwrapped the shroud and took photos and videos which have been posted on the internet. It is clear he was horrifically tortured. And every other day here we bury another victim killed through torture.

Libya has grabbed the world’s attention because the international community has got involved. But the West is silent over Bahrain. Yet Bahrain’s government is not only fighting its own people but has invited in foreign troops to fight them too.

In just a few weeks after the start of the uprisings in Bahrain we have around 700 political prisoners – out of a total population of just 600,000. At least 25 or 30 women have been detained and we are afraid that they may have been raped. Thousands of people have been wounded, shot by live fire or beaten.

They can’t receive proper medical treatment because the hospitals are occupied by the military that are targeting those injured in protests, so we have been looking for volunteer doctors to treat victims away from the hospitals. Hundreds of others – teachers, doctors, nurses – have been sacked because they are Shia, and student scholarships have been withdrawn.

Shia mosques have also been demolished on the pretext that they were not licensed. Even if that were true, this is not the time to take such action. This is all on a sectarian basis – only two of the political prisoners are Sunni.

We are not allowed to contact any of the detainees and we have not been able to see any of them so far. On the other hand, we receive bodies every other day and this is of great concern.

As a human rights activist, these are difficult circumstances for me. It’s very dangerous for me to carry out my work. Many people who once worked with me are in jail or in hiding. I am one of the very few people remaining free to continue these activities, and it’s too dangerous to go to an office – I work from my home.

I have been threatened many times, and on March 28 I was arrested and tortured. At 1am my house was raided and I was dragged from the bed where I was asleep with my eight-year-old daughter. She woke up seeing 25 masked men seizing her father, blindfolding and handcuffing him.

The security forces spent 45 minutes searching my house, they took my computer and those of my children – I also have a 13-year-old son – before dragging me outside to where seven or eight cars were parked. They took me in for questioning and spent two hours slapping and punching me, kicking me in the head and demanding I say how much I loved the king and the prime minister. At first I refused to, telling them it was not my job to do any such thing; in the end I gave in.

On a daily basis I get threatening calls and helicopters circle over my house. A few days ago, I was giving an interview to CNN when we were buzzed by a low-flying helicopter and then surrounded by a group of security forces armed with machine guns.

We were forced to lie on the floor, then moved to stand against a wall where I had a gun pointed at my head. This went on for 45 minutes, and then they detained the CNN crew for six hours, only releasing them after they had wiped their tapes.

But I believe in my work very much. We don’t want to be oppressed and marginalised any more. We have come to a point where we have had enough. I know this job is difficult but at the same time I know how important it is.

We have no democracy. We are ruled by dictators. But we want to live like other people in this world. It’s difficult, dangerous and costly but I have taken the decision to take this path.

Nabeel Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.