Time to Rein in #Bahrain

Bahrain Journalist Nazeeha Saeed [pic: BHR]
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The Kingdom of Bahrain is not presented to the world as a major power, or a serious threat to peace and stability. Quite the opposite. So why is it continually allowed to get away with human rights abuses? Those responsible should be charged and tried, along with the chain of command. Countries which are entitled to pride themselves on their human rights record – I am aware this is a shrinking list – should be ashamed to have any dealings with Bahrain until it changes its policies and adjusts its attitude. Citizens of countries which pretend towards any form of democratic government should use their right to speak out against these abuses.

This is the story of just one of Bahrain’s many victims. On 22 October, a court in Manama cleared a policewoman of torture and ill-treatment in the course of her duties when a female Bahraini journalist, Nazeeha Saeed, was assaulted and beaten in custody during anti-government protests last year.

Lieutenant Sarah al-Musa was the first female officer to be prosecuted before a civilian court for abuses carried out by the police during the crackdown on the popular uprising that began in February last year. Her trial opened on 6 June. In April of this year, The High Criminal Court sent  the case back to the public prosecution.

Nazeeha has announced she intends to appeal against the verdict. The journalist also made a complaint against another policewoman and a male officer, Fahad Ali Abdulla Khalifa, alleging torture and ill-treatment, but so far no action has been taken against them. As well as being a co-accused in the case, Khalifa was also cited as a witness and gave evidence at a hearing on 7 September.

Bahrain Journalist Nazeeha Saeed [pic: BHR]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is outraged at the officer’s acquittal, declaring it “a verdict that illustrates the Bahrain’s judicial system’s lack of independence.” The kingdom’s authorities, mindful of their international image, pride themselves on having accepted 158 of the 176 recommendations — 13 partially – made by the Bahrain Universal Periodic Review at the 21st session of the UN Human rights Council in September 2012. However, these undertakings were trampled underfoot as soon as the television cameras left. This verdict raises many questions as to the seriousness of the Bahraini judiciary to truly implement the recommendations contained in Bassiouni’s report, especially in what relates to bringing to justice those responsible for torture as well as the calls released by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Boarders (RWB), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) pertaining to opening an investigation into the torturing of Nazeeha Saeed and putting the torturers on trial.

Saeed, a correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, had been summoned to a police station for questioning in the city of Rifa’a at midday on 22 May 2011. She expected to be back home two hours later and had no inkling of the nightmare awaiting her.

On arriving at the police station, she took a seat and waited calmly. Other women, mainly nurses, were also waiting, sitting on the floor.

An hour later, she was called. She entered an office where there was a male officer. In a quiet but unsettling voice, he told her to answer the questions that would be put to her. He then left her with a female officer, who accusing her of “lying” in her reports and told her to admit her links with the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar and the Iranian Arabic-language TV station Al-Alam. “You must confess,” the woman kept repeating, going on to accuse her of participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations that have taking place in Bahrain since March.

Another hour passed, and she was taken to another office. There, a woman police officer mocked and insulted her. When Nazeeha ignored her, the policewoman grabbed her by the chin, held it hard, and slapped her with the other hand. “You must tell me the truth,” she screamed, continuing to slap her and then seizing her by the hair and throwing her to the ground. Four policewomen proceeded to slap, punch and kick her repeatedly. One of the women took her shoe and forced it into her mouth. “You are worth less than this shoe,” she said.

With the shoe still in her mouth, she was dragged to yet another office, where she was blindfolded and was initially made to stand. Then she was forced to kneel on a chair, facing the back of the chair, exposing her back and the soles of her feet, which were now beaten repeatedly with a piece of flexible black plastic tubing. As she cried out with pain, a police officer kept shouting “Shut up and answer my questions” without asking any questions or without giving her time to say anything.

She continued to be accused of lying and of “harming Bahrain’s image.” The blows kept on coming. The blindfold finally fell from her eyes and she noticed the male officer, the one who had spoken to her initially, coldly observing the scene.

Nazeeha was then taken to a room where there were other women, nurses, who were awaiting their turn to be interrogated.

After a while, she was taken back for another interrogation session. The nightmare resumed. Blindfolded again, she was told to bray like a donkey and to walk like an animal. A new humiliation. And she was beaten again. At one point, a woman held a plastic bottle against her mouth. “Drink, it’s urine,” the woman cried, pressing her lips against the mouth of the bottle. Nazeeha managed to knock the bottle out of the policewoman’s hand, but the policewoman picked it up and poured part of its contents over her face. Nazeeha did not know what it was, but it stung her face.

She was taken to another office and was forced to kneel on a chair again. The soles of her feet, her back, her arms and her head were again beaten with the plastic tube.

Nazeeha was taken back to the room where other women were waiting and the blindfold was removed. When she recovered the use of her eyes, she saw that it was past midnight. All the women, including Nazeeha, were now allowed to go to the toilet and were brought food. They were also brought documents to sign, without being able to read them. Nazeeha signed.

The policewoman who had initially received her at the police station checked all the women with a stethoscope and told them they would be sent to prison for 45 days, pending trial.

The head of the police station nonetheless asked to see Nazeeha. He told her he was very surprised to find her there and pretended not to know she had been interrogated. She was allowed to phone her mother and was finally allowed to return home. But she has not yet recovered from the ordeal. She continues to suffer physical and psychological after-effects.

The interior ministry subsequently announced proceedings against those responsible for the mistreatment. Nazeeha gave an account of her ordeal to the military prosecutor in charge of the investigation. She spent some time in France receiving medical care before returning to Bahrain.

 

Bahraini media professionals including journalists, photographers, and bloggers were subjected to mass arrests after the declaration of the martial laws in March 15, 2011. This was followed by the murdering of publisher Kareem Fakrawi and blogger Zakariya Al Asheeri along with the arrest and torture of more than 140 media professionals. Likewise, tens of foreign correspondents were temporarily detained, forcefully deported, or denied entry to Bahrain.

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