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Saturday, October 29, 2011
BAHRAIN: WOMEN IN STRUGGLE, WOMEN IN PRISON
Jaleela Al Salman
What have you heard from Bahrain's "Arab Spring, Summer, Autumn", lately. Well, I won't bore you with Saturday afternoon platitudes. Just read this from the Women News Network.
BAHRAIN: Female teacher re-arrest exposes human rights abuse as others recount torture
Women News Network – WNN Breaking News
Women pray for protesters who were injured after riot police stormed an anti-government protest camp, outside the Salmaniya hospital where the casualties were sent to, Manama February 17, 2011. Image: Lou Gold
(WNN) Manama, BAHRAIN: Without proper jurisdiction and legal rights, school teacher and Vice President of Bahrain’s Teachers Association Mrs. Jaleela Al Salman has been forced to return to prison by Bahrain police security following her official release from prison while she was waiting for the appeal of her upcoming case set for December 11.
Detained in prison without access to a lawyer from March 29 to August 21, Jaleela faced a Bahraini military courtroom on September 25, 2011 where she was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment on charges of ‘inciting hatred towards the regime.’ Charges also included calling for a teachers strike and attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force. During her days in prison Jaleela later outlined what she calls “beatings” and sexual intimidation under threats of rape that lead her to making a forced confession of guilt before she received her first official day in court.
“I’m not a politician,” says nurse and President of the Bahrain Nursing Society Ms. Roula al-Safar who had volunteered, along with other medical personnel, to help injured protesters on the streets of Manama, February 14, 2011. “I’m one of these people who will run (to aid) whenever there is a disaster,” Roula, who has now been sentenced to 15 years in prison, added.
“Suddenly the hospital was in chaos,” said Roula outlining events of violence against protesters that resulted in those injured being rushed to the hospital at the Salmaniya Medical Complex emergency room in February, causing it to spill beyond capacity.
Describing continued attacks of protesters, and two persons dead, Roula’s eye-witness account outlines her own arrest. “They did not read our warrants (for arrest),” she said. “They did not tell us what we are accused of for 2 or 3 days of continuous beating,” she describes during a Skype interview with Brian Dooley from the international advocacy group Human Rights First, an international agency that works to protect human rights defenders.
Bahrain’s democracy protests have been one of the largest continuing movements in the Middle East where protesters have steadily asked for human rights. Extreme violence against protesters has resulted in deaths as well as the disappearance of others. The count of those who have died is hard to determine officially but comes with eye-witness reports stating that 4 to 50 persons have died and with 1,000+ protesters injured.
“At least 35 people have now been killed since anti-government protests began,” says the October 25, 2011 update for a Motion for Resolution on the Situation in Bahrain by the European Parliament.
Under extreme duress, many of those who were injured on the streets where blocked by security forces. Others injured flooded the hospital in Manama to the point where medical emergency teams could not cope.
During the February violence emergency ambulance medics were attacked as they were trying to help the injured say witnesses to the events. In a formal statement made by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, following the events she outlined, ““The people of the Middle East and North Africa cannot be denied these basic freedoms. The protestors’ calls for justice, respect for personal freedoms and human rights, for legal and political reforms in this regard, are reasonable and legitimate.”
“We are calling for help from all the countries of the world… These are innocent people,” said eye-witness Dr. Ghassan Dhaif as he described the human rights abuses by Bahrain security officials as they used lethal force against protesters in the early morning hours to break up a February protest tent camp at the Pearl Square traffic circle in Masuma.
“We can’t even identify them (the injured protesters),” Dr. Ghassan outlined during an interview phone-call made with Al Jazeera TV during the February violence. “The ambulance can’t reach them,” he said. “We haven’t done anything and we are shot dead,” Ghassan added as he witnessed events. “The hospital is nearly full,” he continued. “We can’t identify them… We call for urgent help!”
Arrested and tortured on the days following March 19, Ghassan gave a detailed account of his arrest to Doctors in Chains, an advocacy group of medical professionals located in countries outside of Bahrain.
“I was arrested by a group of masked men wearing civilian clothes. I was back handcuffed and my face was covered by black bag tied forcefully at my neck in front of my family. I was taken to a room, beaten on my face, chest and legs without given any charges or reason for arrest,” said Ghassan describing the actions of what he described were 5 to 6 people in the room.
On the 11th of April Ghassan’s wife, anesthesiologist Dr. Zarhra Al Sammak, was also arrested.
On their release and later giving detailed accounts of their torture, forced confessionsand statements of religious hatred and discrimination made against them, Dr. Ghassan and his wife received two separate sentences: 15 years in prison for Dr. Ghassan and a 5 year prison term for Dr. Zarhra based on charges that include 8888 and 8888. On October 23 they will be appealing their cases.
Even with detailed accounts of and media documentation of human rights abuses the government of Bahrain is not formally admitting to any wrong doing. “Bahrain is keen on promoting human rights and spares no effort to protect the rights of citizens and expatriates in line with international covenants and norms,” said Bahrain Ambassador to Belgium Ahmed Al Dossary on October 25 during a meeting with the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Committee of the Delegation to the Arabian Peninsula at the European Parliament.
After going on a hunger strike as a prisoner of conscience during her 149 day detention, educator Jaleela Al Salman suffered under increasing stress from medical conditions. Upon her initial release from prison she received medical treatment in attempts to help her from medical problems that included an unstable heartbeat, spinal disc problems and high blood pressure issues.
On the day of her re-arrest masked security forces dressed in civilian clothing arrived at Jaleela’s home at 3:00am in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 18.
In a plea made by her family that a female security officer, instead of male officers, be assigned to bring Jaleela back to detention, she was brought under her arrest to the Isa Town Police Station by a female security officer.
Mrs. Jaleela Al Salman speaks at event in Manama, Bahrain before her arrest. Image: BCHR - Bahrain Human Rights Center
With military prosecutors many of those arrested may have been treated differently. October 6 has been the last official day that a military tribunal has been allowed to be in charge of court proceedings under Bahrain’s ‘National Safety Court.’ Following this date, Bahrain’s civilian court system will be allowed to take over jurisdiction to manage and oversee court cases.
In a mass resignation in late February, 18 Members of Bahrain’s Parliament resigned out of its 40 member governing body. The elected representatives, all Shia members from one of Bahrain’s largest elected political parties known as Al-Wefaq, resigned from their positions following widespread reports of violence in Manama.
Jaleela has now been transferred to Jaww Central Prison, in the village of Jaww on the eastern shoreline in the southern region of Bahrain, where she now remains under incarceration.
“I saw everybody, because I was the first to go in and the last to go out,” said Jaleela as she described her time under detention following her first arrest.
“Bahrainis who stand up publicly to promote human rights risk harassment and arrest,” says Brian Dooley.
“The Government is primarily responsible for investigating violations, revising its policies and emphasising the adherence to law and order,” said Hasan Moosa Shafaei, head of the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor and regional adviser for the OMCT – the World Organisation Against Torture, who are based in Geneva. “Human rights issues need to be dealt with responsibly and in a transparent manner,” he continued.
Jaleela’s re-arrest may be a punitive measure following interviews she made after her first detention. During the time of her release she outlined numerous human rights abuses that she experienced first-hand as well as other cases of abuse she witnessed inside Bahrain’s system of incarceration.
For many years Jaleela has been an active advocate for education of women in Bahrain. She has also upheld women’s rights and the defense of human rights in Bahrain. In the past months, seven other board members from the Bahrain Teachers Association have also been arrested as they wait under conditions of detention before they receive legal hearings on court trials.
In spite of Bahrain’s presence on the United Nations Human Rights Council and their ratification to membership in UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), a treaty which serves as an international reporting mechanism for human rights and women’s rights worldwide, Bahraini women face numerous issues of discrimination under the law.
Uneven laws for women do exist where women are subject to arbitrary verdicts in court by judges who may or may not interpret the law in their favour. Most women in Bahrain know that when one woman testifies in court her testimony is worth only half that of a man. Uneven laws also exist among the contrast in women who differ from Shi’ite and Sunni faiths. While Shia women, who become divorced, face the loss of their sons at age 7 and their girl children at the age of 9, Sunni women only face legal loss of their daughters once they marry and only lose legal rights in custody of their sons when they reach the legal age of adulthood.
While sexual assault is illegal in Bahrain for all women, no laws in the country specifically prohibit spousal rape. Article 353 of the Bahrain’s Penal Code clearly hurts and discriminates against women giving no punishment for a person who rapes an unmarried woman as long as he marries her after the rape.
Women are also not legally protected from spousal abuse under conditions of domestic violence. These issues along with separate issues of discrimination have brought a growing women’s movement to Bahrain.
In Novemer 2008 Bahrain’s Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdalla Al-Khalifa extended the punishment for penal code 134 which “deliberately broadcasts false news, statements or rumours on the internal situation in Bahrain which could weaken economic confidence in Bahrain, its prestige and diplomatic relations.” This action brought freedom of expression for those concerned about human rights and women’s rights inside the country to a legal halt.
“Not all the human rights violations are committed in courts, police stations or prison cells. Those who join the almost daily demonstrations for democracy continue to be shot at by security forces that target them with tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets and birds shot,” says Brian Dooley. “Several protesters have been killed in recent weeks.”
Since March 2011, in what has been publicly labeled as targeted sectarian violence inside Bahrain, hundreds of teachers as well as medical professionals have been arrested, charged with offenses against the state and fired from their jobs.
“Governments need to be responsive. By resorting to oppressive security measures, they will only foment more frustration, more anger, more instability, which is certainly not in the national interest,” said Pillay in her formal statement for the OHCHR at the United Nations in Geneva.
Twelve days before her re-arrest on October 18, 2011, prisoner of conscience, school teacher and Vice President of Bahrain’s Teachers Association Mrs. Jaleela Al Salman gives a first-hand account of treatment while under incarceration in Bahrain. As witness to abuse under arrest she is candid in her description of methods of intimidation used by security forces during her ordeal. She also describes conditions for other protesters under arrest. This 3:13 minute video is a production of Human Rights First and has been made through a Skype interview by Brian Dooley who is one of the only NGO representatives to travel to Bahrain to gather information during the spring and summer of 2011.
Among the medics sentenced to 15 years in prison in Bahrain is Ms. Roula Al-Saffar, President of the Bahrain Nursing Society, who spent over 4 months in custody before her court proceedings began. Roula worked for many years as a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas (U.S.) following her studies at Widener University in Pennsylvania and at the University of North Texas. Like many other prisoners of conscience targeted during the government crackdown, the medics were tried in a military court. Many were held in incommunicado detention for several weeks without access to lawyers or family. They claim their confessions were extracted under intimidation and torture. She was interviewed by Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley (seen in the top right hand corner of the screen) via Skype.