By Tine Danckaers, Mondiaal Magazine.
In February 2011, tens of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets to protest against the tiny country's ruling al-Khalifa family. Protesters camped out on the capital's Pearl Roundabout for a month, until security forces violently put an end to the protests. Demonstrators were arrested, activists persecuted, doctors who helped the wounded terrorized. Belgian journalist Tine Danckaers traveled to the Gulf state in November 2011. HuffPost World has published the testimonies of some of the Bahrainis she interviewed.
I met Abdullah Fadlain (fictional name) in a Bahraini village. He was detained from April 24, 2011 until July 3, 2011 and says he was tortured multiple times. Fadlain has previously published his testimony online, but he agreed to share his shocking story in person. After finishing, our translator, human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja, told me that she hadn’t translated everything. Some parts were just too humiliating for him to repeat in our presence.
Fadlain had bumped heads with the regime before. He was a member of Haq, a coalition of opposition parties founded in 2005. Fadlain was first arrested in 2006, when authorities accused him of belonging to a group of radical rebels.
Later, they also claimed Fadlain had been caught carrying a Molotov cocktail, but he was in prison on the date the prosecutor claimed the assault had taken place. Fadlain was arrested again in 2007. This time, he was accused of taking part in a politically motivated attack. He spent a year and a half in prison, but was released when the king granted a general pardon to political prisoners. And then the Arab Spring broke out.
Fadlain explains: “I’m an activist, and of course I was at the Pearl Roundabout where it all began,” Fadlain says. “After February 14 [the day when the Bahraini revolution began] the TV showed images of me demonstrating on the Pearl Roundabout, and images of me burning the king’s picture. Yet nothing happened.”
“In March, a few days after the Saudi army wiped the Pearl Roundabout off the map, my cousin, a high-profile political activist, asked me to help him find a place to hide. I didn’t refuse and for the next month we went from one hiding place to the next.”
“Then the security forces – the army and secret services – attacked my family’s home. My brother was beaten, the household furniture was destroyed and even my grandmother was hit. My uncle’s house and the office where he works were the next target. Even the room of the Filipinos who live above it was torn apart. When they found my 16-year-old sister-in-law, they took her into one room, with the rest of the family locked up in another. She was beaten and sexually intimidated. They were going to rape her, they said, if they didn’t find me. At that point my mother-in-law revealed where I was,” Fadlain recalls.
“They burst into our hiding place, but my cousin wasn’t there,” he says. “Already inside the house they gave me electrical shocks, because I wouldn’t tell them where he was. They put me in handcuffs and took me with them in a military vehicle. During the ride they rubbed gel and salt on my body, for the bruises. Then they hit me hard on my neck and joints.”
Fadlain continues: “We stopped at an open, remote place. I was led out of the car, and there were at least 20 vehicles at the place. There were special forces, dressed all in black, with assault rifles. ‘We have orders to kill you,’ an officer said. ‘If you do not give us the information we want, we will kill you very slowly. But before you tell us everything, we’re going to have some fun.’ They started hitting me and asking about my cousin again. ‘We’re going to quarter you,’ they said. Then they tied my arms and legs to two jeeps that slowly drove in opposite directions. ‘If you do not say anything, we’re going to bring Zainab [Fadlain's sister] here, undress her and rape her on the spot, before your very eyes,’ they added. They stopped in time, but my arm had been dislocated. I was taken to a military hospital, got a neck brace and my wounds were taken care of.”
“Despite my injuries I was taken to a military detention facility, where I was kept awake for three days. I got a cell as big as the mattress in it, with no windows, no light, no air conditioning. I stayed in that room for 14 days,” Fadlain claims.
“I was questioned all the time: about political leaders, their hiding places. They tortured me. They kept asking, but I knew nothing.”
He continues: “One morning six men came to get me. ‘You’re no longer in our hands, but in Saudi custody. You’ve gotten the death penalty in Saudi Arabia,’ I was told. They gave me the Quran to prepare myself to die. I was blindfolded again and they took me to a place. People were talking to me in an unmistakably Saudi accent. They did some role playing about how they would kill me: ‘with a knife or a gun,’ ‘we’ll cut his head off.’ After they put a gun in my mouth – I really thought I was going to die – they took me back to prison.”
“It was hell. The whole day people were spitting on me, they even spat in my drinking water. I was given a can of Coke filled with urine,” the activist says.
“I was forced to stand on one leg and to sing the national anthem in Hindi and in Italian. They gave me and my fellow prisoners a picture of the prime minister, which I had to kiss for at least an hour a day, while the guards were watching. I had to sexually approach a picture of one of my family members. When I refused, they started to sexually harass me.”
“Another day an officer came to get me. He told me that they were going to burn me with hot water, the same way I had burned the king’s picture. I heard the water boil. The pushed me into the water, which wasn’t as hot as I had expected. But it was enough to burn my skin. When I started getting muscle contractions, they took me out.”
“It was obvious that the guards were concentrating on our Shia beliefs. That kept recurring in the way they spoke and shouted to us. We were ‘the dirty Shia.’ The bathroom floors were filled with photographs of Shia sheikhs. We had to step on them."
Fadlain says he was transferred to a police station two weeks later. “In the meantime they were knocking the daylights out of us in the car. It was even worse than the military prison, where they were at least sensitive to the techniques of violence; how they were hitting you, for instance. ‘This is only the beginning,’ they warned us.”
“There were five cells, fit for six people, and there were approximately 60 prisoners, I guess. You do the math. My cellmates warned me; they said that I had look out for the guard who was on morning duty. ‘He is full of hate. He knows no mercy.’”
“Every day started with interrogations and a morning session of torture by that guard. He took all the new prisoners, put them in a line and started making his rounds. He beat and kept beating us with a cable until we fell down. And that’s how it went every morning. Afterwards we had to clean the place.”
“He forced us to crawl on the ground, without using our hands or feet. He put a glass of water on our backs, and if we spilled any of it, he would use the cable. Sometimes he took us outside in the sun, where we had to crawl on the ground. We were forced to call Shia leaders ‘dogs.’ When we had taken a shower, he came throwing toilet water on us.”
“We are young men, but there was also a 64 year old there. There were teachers, athletes, managers and ALBA engineers [according to the Bahraini union federation, this aluminium processing government company fired 410 employees in March 2011 because they participated in or supported pro-democracy demonstrations].”
“Those were the mornings. Later in the day the riot police took over. They had this one room: the dark room. They would put each one of us in a corner of the dark room. Then they started hitting you with cables and wires until you thought you were going to drop dead. Sometimes they wouldn’t beat you, but you would hear someone else’s breathing grow more and more silent while they kept on beating.”
“We were transferred to another police station. Above us there were female prisoners. We heard women screaming all day, which broke us as men,” he says.
“Sometimes the riot police would raid the cells, as in a war. One day they came in and shouted: ‘Who is Esma’s husband?’ One of us came forward and he was immediately taken and tortured. We heard him scream, together with his wife."
“Not only physically, but of course also mentally we went through hell. I saw one of the prisoners change completely. He lost his memory. He had been shot in the neck. One day he was beaten so hard that he lost his teeth. I watched him faint and then he vomited a kind of black goo. Then they took him with them. He’s still alive and also got out of prison. I even saw him recently, from a distance. I have no idea of his current mental state.”
“When we were transferred to another prison in Halat Naim in May, the torture stopped. I was only beaten the first night. But what we saw when we arrived, was out of this world. Another group of prisoners had arrived, some wounded people from the Salmanya hospital. They received no medical care. There were people with gunshot wounds to their legs, head, chest; four of them had lost their eyes. Some had so many fractures that they couldn’t walk. We had to carry them on sacks to their cells.”
“Only in June, when the emergency law was lifted, did those people get a thorough medical treatment. Before that we had to make do with cold and warm water, and with canes and crutches. Fortunately there were also some doctors from Salmanya among the prisoners. If they hadn’t been there, some of the wounded would have died.”
Abdullah Fadlain was released on June 3, 2011. Some of the charges against him are: insulting the king, spreading hate and illegal gathering. His case should have appeared before court on November 22, 2011, but was deferred to a later date in 2012. Asked about what keeps him going mentally, Fadlain answered: “The power of victory. One day the regime will bend. I share this belief with many Bahrainis.” Fadlain, who is in his thirties, recovered well from his injuries after he was released. He did, however, incur a permanent nagging pain in his some of his joints and nerves.