Bahraini pro-democracy activist interview

This video, recorded in Bahrain, says about itself:

Nov 12, 2012

Jalila Al Salman recorded this video a few days before her arrest to serve the remainder of her sentence. It was first screened 12-11-12 in UK Parliament at an event about teachers in the Arab Spring.

By Luke James in Britain:

Taking a stand for teachers in Bahrain

Friday 05 April 2013

A week ago Bahraini teacher and trade unionist Jalila al-Salman won a special solidarity award at the NASUWT teachers’ union conference.

When thousands of ordinary Bahrani citizens took to the streets in peaceful pro-democracy protests in the Arab spring of 2011, mother-of-three Salman, then Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) vice-president, began rallying her members to join.

Shia Muslims, who make up the majority of Bahrain’s population of just over 1,300,000 people, were angry at being sidelined by the ruling monarchy – whose members are Sunni – and were emboldened by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

And through the efforts of Salman and other teacher trade unionists a staggering 9,000 educators – of a total 14,000 in the country – walked out of classrooms on the small island state as part of a three-day strike in solidarity with mass anti-government protests.

It was the first time that teachers had taken strike action in Bahrain.

Striking teachers joined other workers and students at protests centred on the now demolished Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the country’s capital.

Using an arsenal of weapons supplied by Britain and with the aid of Saudi Arabian troops, Bahrain’s military began a brutal repression of these peaceful protests that took the lives of dozens and injured hundreds more.

Once they had driven pro-democracy supporters from the capital’s streets security forces took advantage of emergency laws to start a crackdown on trade union leaders and others who organised support for the protests.

In the early morning of Tuesday March 29 2011 security services descended on Salman’s sleeping family.

She tells the Morning Star: “There were more than 50 security men, masked and unmasked with different security uniforms and weapons.

“They went through all the house, the kids’ bedrooms. My father was with me that night and they just entered his room.

“They terrified them with weapons until they came to my room.”

Salman was driven to the city’s criminal investigations department via the Pearl Roundabout. An officer told her to take a final look at the monument before she was executed. She was then beaten unconscious.

She woke up in a “freezing” two-by-two-metre cell where, in between interrogations, she was made to stand and denied sleep, water, food, prayer time and access to a toilet.

“For 14 days they didn’t allow me to sleep, even,” she says.

“At the beginning maybe I can (stay awake) but after a while it’s very difficult to be awake and of course if I just close my eyes then I will be beaten again.

“If I closed my eyes they will wake me again to force me to hear my colleagues being beaten and tortured.”

This terrible routine went on in detention centres and prisons until August when, tortured and blindfolded, she was eventually coerced into a confession under threat of further torture.

When the teacher heard the details of the 12 charges, which each carried five to 10 years in prison, at a military court, she says her and a colleague “were just looking at each other and laughing.”

The hearing was also the first time she had seen her family, colleagues and her lawyer in over five months.

She was later released on bail but was put back behind bars once again by scared authorities after giving a “short two-minute speech” to teachers about their industrial rights.

However, the plight of brave Bahraini teacher trade unionists had by now attracted significant attention around the world – at least in part because of the efforts of Britain’s teaching unions – and Salman was released because of “huge international pressure.”

Salman told her story to Britain’s teacher trade unionists, who listened in disbelief, at the NUT and NASUWT annual conferences over Easter.

Her own BTA union has been abolished by the government but she’s determined to win back union rights for Bahrain’s teachers, many of whom have been stripped of their jobs.

Salman explains that children’s learning outcomes have plummeted since the government drafted thousands of unqualified volunteers into Bahrain’s schools as replacements for unreliable Shia teachers.

“The government has planted 3,000 volunteers in the system to replace teachers who were striking,” she told the NASUWT.

“I’m hearing here in the conference that your minister (England’s Education Secretary Michael Gove) is about to allow anyone to teach. It just gives me the same idea about what we were facing.”

Last Friday, which marked exactly two years since Salman was terrorised in her home by masked gunmen for the “crime” of leading her trade union in a struggle for fairness and equality, she was presented with the NASUWT solidarity award.

As she received a standing ovation from a humbled conference it was clear that the cruel Bahraini government had made the terrible mistake of turning an effective and tenacious trade union leader for thousands into a role model for millions.

In typically principled style Salman dedicated the award to all of Bahrain’s teachers.

And she tells the Star she is determined to mark the third anniversary of that terrible morning in March 2011 by celebrating the release of hundreds of teachers, students and other workers who remain in prison.

“Only then, when all of them are out of prison, will I say OK and have a rest,” she says.

But it will only be a short one. She’s determined to “start another round because we have to start a new union for us.

“I will not stop, whatever they do, I will not stop.

“We say in Arabic that one hand can’t clap. You have to use two hands. I am only one person, but with my colleagues we can do much more.”

3 thoughts on “Bahraini pro-democracy activist interview

  1. Pingback: Canadian Conservatives support Bahrain dictatorship | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Bahrain, torture and football | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Bahrain dictatorship arrests activists before Grand Prix | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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