From daily The Independent in Britain:
Monday 9 September 2013
Voices in Danger: “They said I shouldn’t report because I was ruining my country’s reputation.”
Nazeeha Saeed expected the phone call from al-Rifaa‘a police station in Bahrain‘s capital Manama, which asked her to come in for questioning during the early days of the 2011 uprising. What she did not expect, when she arrived on 22 May 2011, was to be taken in to custody, tortured and humiliated by police officers for thirteen hours.
A correspondent for French channels France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, she had been covering the chaos as Shia protesters, unhappy with the ruling of the Sunni Al-Khalifa royal family, clashed with security forces.
“It was a messy time,” she says.
Reports of people being detained, injured and killed were rife, emotions were running high. Journalists had been mistaken for activists and caught up in the crackdown.
She decided not to contact her family, expecting no more than a couple hours’ interrogation before returning home. But she did call France 24, and told them where she was going.
“I was blindfolded and beaten with a hose all over my body. I was harassed, I got electrical shocks – it was humiliating,” she told The Independent.
The beatings on her face, back, shoulders and legs were so severe that she was unable to walk for days.
That was just the beginning. During her ordeal, Nazeeha, who is 32, says she was accused of participating in the protests, lying in her reports and was interrogated about possible links to the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah television station al-Manar and the Iranian Arabic station Al-AlamIranian – serious accusations, as Iran had been accused of fomenting the largely Shia-Muslim majority demonstrations against the Sunni-Muslim ruling family. She vehemently denies these claims.
“They kept saying that I didn’t respect my country, that I’m a traitor,” she says. “They said I shouldn’t report because I was ruining my country’s reputation.
“I would care if it was about the reputation of my country I was ruining, but it was not – it was the police force’s reputation.”
“I didn’t do the things I thought would really upset the government. I just did my job – OK, not the way they would like it, but it’s my job.”
She told The Independent she was forced to sign a confession she was not allowed to read, and she was made to bray like a donkey.
She said that one police officer forced her head into a toilet and flushed it, while another tried to make her drink an unknown liquid.
Somebody in the room said it was urine. Nazeeha refused, so the officer spilled it over her clothes and hair, to which she had an allergic reaction.
I don’t know to this moment what it was,” she says. “Even the medics who examined me later didn’t know what it was.”
“I thought at that moment, ‘I’m not going to get out of this place, ever’. The way they treat you, and when you are locked in a room and blindfolded – you don’t know how long you are going to be there. It was too long for me. I didn’t know I was only there for thirteen hours. I thought it was a few days.”
“Thank God I informed my channel that I was on my way to the police station,” she says.
France 24 pushed for the government to open an investigation into Nazeeha’s abuse. She says she underwent hours of questioning and a thorough medical examination, limping, her body still battered and bruised, before being flown to Paris to receive medical treatment. There, in Paris, she met with a representative of press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders to examine her injuries independently and bring her story out into the open.
“I don’t want you to imagine I wasn’t scared after I left,” she says. “I wasn’t feeling secure at all, and I wanted to hide the story. But my channel decided it was an important move. Now, there is no use in hiding it – it was already out, so I was talking about it loudly. I had a case in the court, and I wanted advocacy.”
But two years on from her ordeal, and Nazeeha is still fighting for justice.
She filed a case a complaint with the Public Prosecution Office against who she believed were her torturers, and the case was referred to the criminal courts.
Sarah Al-Musa faced charges before a civilian court for abuses during the police crackdown on the protests that started in February 2011. Her trial opened in June, but in October 22, 2012 a court in Manama cleared the police officer of torture and ill-treatment in the course of her duties, describing Saeed’s evidence as “contradictory” and “not consistent with the forensic report.”
A government spokesperson said Nazeeha could not have identified her alleged abusers if she had been blindfolded, as she had said in her initial statement. And according to the forensic report, there was no evidence for electrocution and hair pulling, and although she had scratch marks on her neck, Nazeeha had not mentioned this in any of her previous statements either.
“The High Criminal Court acquitted the defendant Lt Sarah Al-Musa, on the grounds that the evidence did not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” a government spokesperson told The Independent.
Rights campaigners Amnesty International dismissed this decision, saying there was “overwhelming evidence that Nazeeha Sa’eed had been tortured” and that the forensic reports “noted marks of torture and beatings on several parts of her body.”
A report commissioned by the Bahraini government and published in November 2011 revealed that there had been widespread torture and killing by the Bahraini security forces.
Nazeeha also filed a complaint against another female and male police officer on the same charges, but no action has been taken against them.
She immediately appealed the verdict, but the decision was upheld last June – a move which Reporters Without Borders slammed, saying it “clearly shows the lack of independence of the Bahraini judicial system and the duplicitous nature of the government’s concern for its image in the eyes of the international community.”
Nazeeha’s final attempt to appeal the decision failed last July, when the Public Prosecution refused her request.
But, although her case has run its course in the criminal courts, she says she will keep on fighting.
“It’s difficult, to put yourself in a position against the whole system,” she says.
“But if I quit, then I’m sending out the message that journalism is risky, that you shouldn’t do it. I don’t want this message to go out. I have a responsibility to continue until the end, because if I quit I’m allowing others to do the same to my colleagues one day.”
“I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel justice, and I don’t think the system respects journalists, and human beings, if these people are walking around us without punishment.”
You can read other Voices in Danger stories on the campaign page, here.
- Bahrain’s Tamarod Is Here to Stay (ipsnews.net)
- Bahraini human rights activist speaks (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Bahrain dictatorship’s British government support (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- British government welcomes dictatorships at London arms fair (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Bahrain government, stop repression, Amnesty says (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Bahrain dictatorships deports United States teacher for tweeting (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- My Parents’ Bahrain (jadaliyya.com)
- Bahrain warns protesters they will be met with force (theguardian.com)
- Bahrain Continues Sectarian, Political Oppression and Nightly Arrests (nsnbc.me)