The 14th February sees the first anniversary of the Bahraini protests and yet, despite the ongoing nature of these protests and despite the increasing reports of violence, torture and random imprisonment of the protesters, we still see relatively little about it in our mainstream media.
Photo source : Wikipedia
The U.S. has made a lot of noise this week when talking about the situation in Syria, Secretary Clinton has made a personal pledge to do 'more' to ensure the rights of the protesters in that country. Indeed, she even went so far as to say
“Every member of the Council has to make a decision: Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of the Syrian people? Are you on the side of the Arab League? Are you on the side of the people of the Middle East and North Africa who have during this past year spoken out courageously and often for their rights? Or are you on the side of a brutal, dictatorial regime? It is absolutely imperative that we all be on the right side of history.”
And yet, she remains strangely reticent when it comes to Bahrain. True, she has made statements in the past urging the Bahraini Government to display restraint but, in comparison to the strength of her words this week about Syria, Bahrain does not appear to be at the top of her agenda. In fact, to be honest, I sometimes wonder if it figures at all on the agenda in the U.S. I don't go much for conspiracy theories, neither do I believe in hidden agendas in this case as I think the 'agenda' is so blatantly obvious! The U.S. has massive military investment in Bahrain, along with similar levels of investment in Saudi Arabia who, for the record, have assisted the Bahraini regime in attempting to put an end to the protests. In the above-linked article they claim that the Saudi-led military force crossed into Bahrain with the express purpose of "propping up the monarchy against widening demonstrations".
In the words of Elie Wiesel
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The U.S. moors its 5th fleet in Bahrain and, as Lamees Dhaif noted in the interview I conducted with her last week, the Bahraini people have welcomed the American forces into their country and have never had any kind of problem with them.
As Lamees further said
"We may be a small country, we may be small people, but we ARE still people and we deserve their support".
This week, I interviewed another person involved in the protests and I'd like to share her story with you. For reasons of personal safety, she has asked not to be identified by her real name and therefore, for the purposes of this interview, I will call her Ali. If you've been following the rapidly increasing number of detentions and random beatings by the security forces in Bahrain, then you will well understand why this protester wishes to remain anonymous. She'd like the world to hear her story but she would also like to protect her own personal safety (as far as she can) in order that she can continue to help and assist other protesters in the way she has been doing for the last year.
Anyone who speaks truthfully about what is happening in Bahrain, risks arrest (or worse), and so I would really urge you to read her words and try to imagine yourself in her position. I am grateful that people such as this interviewee exist in our world and, as she herself says, we, as onlookers, should do all we can to raise the profile of the Bahraini protests in order that they do not remain silent and hidden from view.
Here is her story ...
Can you tell us a little about yourself and something about how you became involved in the Bahraini protests?
I am a female teacher living in an area off Budaiya Road - I never thought that I would become both a victim of ill treatment by the riot police, nor an individual, like so many, looking over my shoulder or shuddering every time a riot van was near. At the same time I never knew I had the strength to become someone who openly fought for individuals sent to arbitrary detention. I run the risk everyday of being caught yet I am no one, compared to the bravery and conviction I have witnessed from those so much younger than I .
I remember the day when I went to pearl roundabout for the first time. There are no words to even begin to explain the enthusiasm, unity, and euphoria that existed those first days. There were no distinctions. No sects. No religion. No class differentiation. What there was, can only be described as a connectedness and belief in the need for Bahrain, as a whole, to move forward - forward towards equality in all aspects of the social, political and economic makeup of Bahrain. I never thought for a second what a shocking turn our celebratory gathering would take. Nor did anyone ever imagine in their worst of nightmares, how much pain we would all go through over the coming 12 months.
Protesters marching in Bahrain.
Photo by kind permission of @A7med_BH
Can you tell us something about your own experiences on the frontline of the protests in Bahrain over the past year?
During the months of March and April the most horrific tragedies occurred - I am not sure how everyone else reacted, but I know that I must have still been in shock. I couldn't understand, couldn't fathom how such brutality could take place - at the time the news outside of Bahrain was short and swift - almost like a dazzling news caption soon forgotten or brushed aside by the latest celebrity tabloid headline.
Did you feel the world had forgotten Bahrain? Did you feel discouraged by the lack of coverage of the Bahraini protests in the Western media?
Well, while the world moved on, we stayed. Night after night reports came in of people being dragged out of their homes to prisons never to be seen again, bodies turning up dumped full of torture marks, schools near me were attacked daily and I personally heard the screaming of young girls as they were whipped by police - made to do mock death trials, spat on, humiliated - young children no older than 10 - no older than the students I still teach today.
I became more involved in those months and actively began to go out to rescue people.
It all began when I received my first frantic call from a friend whose brother had been dragged out of his home, beaten and she had no idea where he was or if he was alive. I got in my car and went to around 14 police stations hunting for him with her that night. We found him. It took 3 months before she had him back at home. He was never the same again - a young man in his 20's who had aged so horrifically.
Were you able to continue working as a teacher during this time?
I started to go to teach at the homes of those students thrown out of school - I think I went there more to help their hearts than their school work - to at least let them know that there were many of us out there that would not let them down. I cannot begin to explain the fear in their eyes, in their parent's eyes and although most of them have returned to school, the emotional scars are evident in their outlook on life now, their cynicism is great and I fear will never be changed.
At the beginning, back at the time of 14th February, 2011, did you have any idea how long the protests would continue?
Well, the protests went on for months - but one must understand the nature of these - often people hear the word 'protest' and have quite a western view about it. Here we gathered in our own village streets, held candle light vigils in silence, prayed in mosques, released peace balloons into the sky. We carried flowers and gave them to police. Our leaders spoke of unity and dialogue. We still believed we could make this place better together. Our slogan at pearl roundabout was: not Sunni not Shia, I'm a Bahraini - in fact both sects celebrated at lulu.
Many people have told me that they believe there was a concerted effort by the Bahraini regime to control the local media in order that the outside world only heard one side of the situation. Do you also believe this is true?
Yes. In the ensuing months a large and destructive local media campagn flooded the papers. Local papers with an objective view were closed down. GDN (Gulf Daily Newspaper) and BTV (Bahrain Television) owned and run by the Alkhalifa family began to punt a distinct picture of hate towards all and any protester. We were accused of many ridiculous things. Our people who were turning up dead, our young children as young as 5 years old held prison were painted as evil; and Shia mosques (a total of 36) were torn down within a few weeks.
Yet we remained peaceful - we believed truly that the world would see our plight and would help.
But the world and its media were silent. I do give credit to a few journalists such as Nick Kristoff and Aljazeera News who at least did a few documentaries (Shouting in The Dark) and tried to keep our story alive.
But our people were being tortured, killed and taken in the middle of the night - every night.
But the world was focussing on Egypt, then Libya.... We were a small little island - we were not newsworthy.
We still continue to be unworthy of airtime...
Could you tell us something about your personal experiences, or about the experiences of friends of yours, with the Bahraini Security Forces over the last year?
I had a few personal experiences with the police here. I do not like to use that word as only individuals who protect the innocent deserve such a title.
Near the end of April, we held a protest after the death of a prominent leader whose body was found tortured and dumped not far from where I stay. As usual, and with spectacular brutality, the police swooped in, beating us with sticks, shooting rubber bullets and dragging us from the streets.
I was pulled into a police van where I huddled in the corner surrounded by 3 uniformed men. They spat on me, kicked me and told me everything they were going to do to me. I will be honest.... It was the first time I truly felt fear... So much fear that I wet myself They laughed and drove me down Budaiya Road. After a few minutes they opened the van door and threw me out.
But these are just the physical scars. The affects of teargas are a constant here. I ask anyone who has never experienced teargas to do a quick search on YouTube. There are some clips on there on the American army going through teargas drills. They last about 40 seconds in it. We had 76 teargas shots in our village just last night. Multiply that by 12 months and you may begin to understand why we have had several deaths now as a result of teargas inhalation.
How did you feel after this happened to you? Did it make you feel you should stop protesting?
Well, it took a few weeks to eventually feel human again. I continued to communicate with other protesters and activists online. However, my twitter account was bombarded with hate tweets from loyal supporters to the King. What has astounded me until today, is that I have yet to see any protester actively go out of their way to find a loyal supporter of the regime and begin to threaten them online. My Facebook account was closed and after I received threatening tweets from even royal family members who released my name and details online, I changed my twitter account.
I could easily have given up then, but to understand the desperate situation of those suffering this fate, you will quickly learn the resilience of such amazing individuals who believe that there is but only one choice - freedom.
This is not a fight but a movement, a unifying of minds with one purpose: a future that is fair. A future that is dignified. A future that epitomizes equality for all.
After a number of weeks I went back actively into protests, mostly in my neighborhood. It was in September that I suffered a further injury by police. The scars are still on my hand and arm today and will be, I'm sure, there for the rest of my life. Our village has been attacked every night with teargas. Every night by riot police. Most nights with sound bombs.
For those who cannot contemplate the idea, I ask you to imagine each day and each night with the stench and gusts of teargas clogging your lungs, with the ricochet of sound bombs blasting off in the night, and a community of residents cowering behind closed curtains praying the police do not break down their door and take a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a grandparent.
One must live it to truly understand what we have been going through.
My injury came one night as I drove to Saar to help a friend of mine who was hiding in one of the streets and needed to get away from the police. I drove there and then left my car and went on foot as I knew a number of riot police were patrolling. I came round a corner and was confronted by several riot police a short distance away. Without warning (which is the norm) one of them rushed to me. I turned and fled but fell on the ground. He caught up. He began dragging me over the gravel. I managed to kick and scramble away. He didn't chase. He laughed and called me an Iranian bitch. I'm not Iranian. He was not Bahraini.
What action would you like to see from outside of Bahrain? What do you think Western Governments should be doing?
All I want is the world to notice and show their support. Innocent lives cannot center around the deal made on the cost of a barrel of oil. I do not care if it is not in the UK or the US' 'best interests' to get involved.
I'm asking humanity out there to be human again.