Source: Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Three women are still detained in prison and dozens awaiting trial. Others are being dismissed from work and education.
Bahrain center for Human Rights strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown against the peaceful protesters in Bahrain, specially the repression and detention of a great number of Bahraini women such as political and social activists, doctors, teachers, housewives as well as school and university students.
These women are facing torture as well as physical and verbal abuses that leads to death in some cases; in addition to the dismissal from work and education. This is thought to be a vengeance against Bahraini women for the key role they played since the beginning of the protests; a way to force them giving up that role and retreat any activity they had in the protesting movement since last February. It is also a way to add pressure on the opposition to retreat their legitimate demands.
Women have played major part since the beginning
Since the early days of the Bahraini revolution on February 14th, 2011, Bahraini women participated as an active and influential entity in the protests.
They advanced in great numbers on the front lines of the peaceful protests and expressed their opinion by demanding their political and human rights, giving speeches and reciting poetry. Their presence in the Pearl Square -The symbol of Bahrain’s revolution- was significant in taking up management roles, rescuing those injured by the excessive force used by Bahraini security forces; as well as documenting the brutalities committed against protesters and speaking to various media outlets .
It is due to the active roles played by Bahraini women, that the authorities conducted a crackdown attacking and detaining them and anyone who they believe participated in the protests.
The crackdown reached its peak with the arrest of unprecedented numbers of women in the history of Bahrain [over 100 woman during less than 2 months]; as well as the direct shooting of a woman by a sniper in Bahrain’s army.
Thousands of women find themselves in poor psychological condition due to threats and intimidations faced and fear of injury, detention and losing their jobs and studies.
Physical attacks and life threats during the peaceful protests
Since the beginning of the protests last February, government forces faced peaceful protesters, including women, with excessive violence.
Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired directly towards the women leading to fainting, wounds and injuries.
Even in their homes and living areas, women are not safe from being targeted by the security forces.
On Friday evening, 25th March 2011, Najeeba Said Ali Al-Tajer, who is in her sixties, was admitted to the Military Hospital, after being shot by riot police causing fracture of the skull and tumescence in the eye. She went through surgery to stop the heavy bleeding.
Reports indicate that she was standing in front of her house door, when she was unexpectedly shot by riot police, who were in vast numbers in the residential area of Aali trying to disperse a protest organised by the residents during the afternoon .
In another incident, a lady was hit by a shotgun pellet in her eye and forehead.
She said she was in her house on the top floor when the security forces and protesters clashed in the street, and the riot police tried dispersing the protesters and shot her.
Female doctors and nurses attacked
Female doctors and nurses who treated the wounded and injured were also subjected to physical attacks.
On March 14, 2011, “thugs” backed by civilian militias under the command of Bahraini security forces physically attacked the nurses in the University of Bahrain and abused them verbally. Two female doctors were threatened to death with a knife; one of them was Dr. Alaa Al-Safaar. On March 15, 2011, Dr. Haneen Al-Bosta was a victim of physical attack while she was treating injured protesters who were attacked by security forces in Sitra. An officer in the security forces slapped her on the face, kicked her and forced her to crawl in the street, as a punishment for doing humanitarian work: treating the injured.
As a climax to these violations, at least one woman was purposefully killed. On March 15, 2011, the day the Pearl Square was forcefully cleared of protesters by the army and security forces, Bahiya Abdul Rasool Al-Aradi's (51 years old) life was taken by the military forces, when a bullet hit the front of her head , making her clinically dead, while she was driving home on Budayaa road .
She was listed missing since the day she got injured and her family were denied access to the Military Hospital to look for her.
On March 20th, Bahiya was announced dead. Instead of investigating her death, the government tried forcing her family to sign the death certificate which stated “car accident” as cause of death. Her family refused signing, therefore the cause of death has changed to “serious brain injury”.
Horrific raids and arrest of women
Since the announcement of Martial law on March 15th, national security forces have launched aggressive raids arresting women who were thought to have participated in the protests or strikes, have expressed their support or have helped protesters by offering them medical treatment.
The attacks were specially targeted against teachers, university students, doctors, paramedics and even housewives. Their homes and workplaces were raided during the early hours of dawn. Moreover, some intermediate and secondary girls’ schools were raided leading to arrests a number of pupils under the age of 18. Other women were arrested at check points, where protest pictures or forwarded messages related to the protests were found on their mobile phone.
At the time of writing this report, 100 women have faced arrest in less than 2 months since March 15th and 30 of them are still in custody. This number is more than the double of female Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which is 36 prisoners. It is believed that the total number of arrests is much higher than this number given the pace at which the daily detentions take place under a media blackout and fear or embarrassment of most families to report the arrest of their daughters.
It is also believed that a large number of women are being detained on a daily basis to be interrogated for hours or days before being released. The ages of the female detainees who remain in prison are between 16 to 51 years old.
Among the detainees is Dr. Khulood Al-Durazi, one of the most famous doctors in the Gulf, specialising in infertility and IVF, as well as the President of Bahrain Nursing Society, Mrs. Rula Al-Saffar and the Vice President of Bahrain Teachers' Society, Mrs. Jalila Salman.
Security forces break the house doors and locks
These arrests often happen after midnight, in the absence of female police. Security forces break the house doors and locks and threaten family members so they hand over their daughter if the troops don't find her. This is what happened to the family of Ayat Qurmuzi (20, student and poet) whose parents were threatened to witness the killing of all their children there and then, did they not disclose the whereabouts of Ayat. To add to the emotional pressure on the family of the detainee, the authorities denied later the arrest of Ayat after taking her from her home, and asked her family to report her missing, which put them in a very difficult psychological state and anxiety.
In some cases, teachers were arrested from their classrooms in front of their pupils while teaching. This has serious psychological impact on the teacher herself as well as the pupils who witnessed the horrific scene of security forces and masked men raiding their classroom arresting their teacher or classmates.
Some of the arrested teachers, interrogated and then released confirmed that they were subjected to severe beatings by male interrogators in the detention centers. Some of them said they were blindfolded from the moment of their arrest and throughout the interrogation and had to face the wall while being beaten. A student who was arrested and released two days later said “she was severely beaten and was made to choose between insulting religious symbols and being raped” . Also, according to information received by the center, most of the detainees were beaten during their interrogation. They were slapped on the face and beaten on the back and neck leaving marks that were visible even after their release.
Moreover, the detainees were forced to chant the royal anthem and expressions of loyalty to the Bahraini government figures such as “The people want Khalifa Bin Salman” as well as expressions insulting the opposition figure Hassan Mushaima. They were also forced to wash and clean the detention center's toilets and wipe the floor, desks and all the furniture. This was intended to humiliate them as well as physically and psychologically punish them.
At time of writing this report, the center observed at least one case of a woman and mother of an infant, who was repeatedly detained in Hamad Town police station for refusing to have sex with security personnel in the detention center.
The center was also informed that the poet Ayat Qurmuzi has been subjected to severe torture in order to force her to confess, in front of cameras, of things she has not committed.
This is a habitude Bahraini regime has observed since the events of the nineties and was repeated in 2008 when confessions of tortured detainees were filmed and officially aired on national television.
Dr. Farida Al-Dalal said to Al Jazeera English in an interview after she was detained for a day, whereas the bruises and the marks of beating were clear on her face, that she got arrested from here office in front of her staff and patients by masked men and women who were covering their faces with black glasses. After investigating her in her office and inspecting her computer she was taken to the police station where she was beaten, slapped on the face, hit by a heavy hose on the forearms and legs and kicked in her back. Also, they covered her eyes with other detainees and commanded them to run to slam into the walls. Moreover, they ordered them to dance, and insulted them verbally by calling them “Dirty Shiites”, “Whore” and “Idiots who do not deserve wearing the white coat.” These sanctions were meant to humiliate and psychology abuse the detainees, in addition to physical damage as a result of beating. It is noteworthy that Dr. Farida Al-Dalal is Dr. Ali Al-Ekry’s wife, who is detained and it is believed that her arrest, beaten and insulting is linked to his arrest. Dr. Al-Dalal expressed her concern over herself after speaking to Al Jazeera “"especially in light of the international community's silence about abuses taking place in Bahrain.” The center was informed that she got another call to the police station on Saturday 7 May.
Some of the detainees suffer from illnesses which make their presence in detention centers a threat to their lives. This is the case of Amina Abdul Nabi Mullah, a primary school teacher who was arrested for letting her students draw the Pearl Roundabout in their notebooks without reporting them. She suffers from illnesses which require her to take medication daily and regularly. However, the authorities refused handing her the required medication. Her family were deeply concerned fearing the deterioration of her health; she spent several weeks in prison before being released lately.
Another example is the case of Mrs. Afrah Al-Asfoor, Arabic teacher and member of Teachers' Society who was arrested on March 29th after her house was raided by security forces -there was no female police with them-. Her whereabouts were unknown until mid April when she had her first phone call to her family. She previously had a stroke in the brain and the doctors warned her of any emotional stress as it could affect her health. Her family lived in fear that her status will deteriorate until she was released recently after more than a month in custody.
Many of the detained women are mothers and in some cases their husbands are also in custody or missing, leaving the children without any parent. This is the case of Dr. Zahra Al-Sammak who was arrested alongside her husband Dr. Ghassan Dhaif. As well as Mrs. Dhia Khamees (nurse) whose husband is missing too. There are also nursing mothers among the detainees (Mrs. Khatoon Said Hashem and Mrs. Kamila Juma Yousif) who are denied breastfeeding their babies. There are also pregnant women among the detainees.
Some women have spent more than a month in custody without any charge against them and without being allowed to meet their families or a lawyer. This was the case for the medicine students in the Saudi university of Dammam, Alaa Sayed Shubar, Zainab Al-Makhlooq and Zahra Zabar who were taken to Bahrain on March 21st and were directly handed over to the authorities without allowing their families to see them. They were not released until April 14th. Similarly, Dr. Nada Dhaif spent more than a month in custody (arrested on March 21st) in the threat of being moved to solitary confinement to be tortured, and not knowing anything about her until she was released few days ago.
Some of the women who were released said they were interrogated about going to the Pearl Roundabout, symbol of the Bahraini revolution. They were asked about their participation in the protests and any communication they had with international organisations or foreign media, as well as any relationship they may have with foreign countries. Prior to their release most of the detainees are forced to sign statements accusing them of inciting or participating in an attempt to overthrow the regime. They are also threatened to death in the case of speaking to the media.
The regime doesn't hesitate to arrest some women as hostages to force their wanted relatives to surrender. On April 26th, Sheikh Riadh Al-Sitri's mother was arrested for several hours to force her son to surrender. She is an elderly around the age of 65 and suffering from chronic diseases.
The little information that reaches the detainees' families indicates that there are two centers where the female prisoners are held: the detention center part of the Criminal Investigation Department, which is a notorious prison, and Isa Town's police station.
In May 2009, Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) visited the female prison in Isa Town and issued a report which noted the smallness of the prison in relation to the number of inmates (57 at the time). The prison is divided into two wards with five cells each; each cell is around twenty metres square. 8 to 10 inmates stay in each cell, which is considered too many compared to the size of the cell. Despite the fact that some cells do not have windows, so neither light nor natural ventilation enter the room.
Given the current number of the detainees which is added to the inmates who were already in prison, it is clear that the total number of inmates is higher than the prison's capacity, putting the inmates' physical and mental health at risk.
The report also observed that there were no chairs in the cells. The inmates had to use their bed to sit on. Also, there were only 6 toilets and 6 showers for all the inmates to share, and one of the toilets was broken, which could be dangerous for the inmates. They can use it as a means of self-harm, especially when suffering from depression due to torture. The public toilets can transmit infections, not to mention that there is no soap for washing hands after the use of the toilets and no toilet paper.
The report also noted the absence of a permanent nurse, as well as the absence of any visiting doctor from rehabilitation centers or from the Ministry of Interior Affairs to check on the inmates.
It is reminded that “Bahrain has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, because it requires a permanent presence of a committee unexpectedly visiting the prisons.”
The beating and arrest of school girls
Even young girls under the age of 18 are not spared from physical attacks, intimidation and arrest. Some girls' schools including primary schools are repeatedly raided by the security forces, and some students and teachers are arrested after being insulted and beaten. In the interrogation centers they are cursed and sworn at, beaten and have their scarves (Islamic dress) removed. They are also threatened and have their beliefs insulted and their patriotism questioned. All these abuses take place as their exam period starts.
On April 18, 2011 after some students repeated anti-government slogans, women police and riot police raided Yathreb Primary girls' school in Hamad Town where they launched a mass arrest. Up to 50 girls between the ages of 11 to 14 were arrested. The security forces photographed them and beat them, then took them to Hamad Town police station (roundabout 17). According to the information the center has received, the detainees were insulted and violently beaten on their heads with batons by the women police. They were interrogated and had a record opened for each of them. They were also asked whether they participated in any marches and whether they went to the Pearl roundabout. Their heads were hit to the wall several times and they had to stand on their feet for hours. They were also forced to write the name of “Hassan Mushaima” under their shoes and wash their scarves after writing pro-government slogans on it. In addition to this, the police sprayed a product they did not know on the girls' faces. Before releasing them, they forced them to sign a pledge that they would be back the next day, otherwise they would be brought by force. The families said that their daughters were in a lamentable state of psychological collapse after their release.
That same school was raided again several times in the following days, in addition to Ahd Zaher Girls' Secondary School, Amima Bint Noman Girls' Secondary School and Hajer Girls' Intermediate School. According to AlWefaq soecity, 15 girls schools were raided by security forces. They were frequently raided and had teachers and pupils arrested. It has put the parents and the students in a constant fear of being subject to beatings and arrest at school.
Assaults on women during night raids
Women get assaulted when their homes are raided at night in search for wanted family members. Fatima, Mr. Sallah Al-Khawaja's wife was beaten, threatened, demeaned and intimidated when her house was raided on March 21st for the arrest of her husband. After arresting Sallah, the security forces went to his wife's bedroom, where she was sleeping with her children, and pointed a gun on her 10 year old daughter's head forcing her to leave the bed. The children were put in a corner of the room while Mr. Khawaja's wife was pulled from her hair from room to room.
They asked her the whereabouts of her wanted nephew, when she told them she didn't know, they threw her on the floor in a dark room where five men started beating, kicking and slapping her. They insulted her and verbally abused her using obscene words. One of the men put his genitals on her face.
She says she was terrified and feared for her children and honour. She still fears they might come back to attack the house even after the arrest of her husband. Days after the event, the beating marks were still visible on her arm and leg.
Also, on the night the home of Mr. Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, the well known human rights activist, was raided, his daughter Zaynab Al-Khawaja was dragged on the stairs from her shirt. A man from the security forces threatened to arrest her too if she continued shouting to stop beating her father. They then locked her, her sister and mother in one of the rooms.
The same incident happened, when arresting the Secreteray General of the Islamic Action Society, Sheikh Mohammed Ali Mahfoodh. His wife was severely beaten when his house -in the village of Bani Jamrah- was raided, and his 16 years old son, Hassan, was taken as a hostage.
In cases where the wanted is not present during the raids, the family members, specially the wife or mother is threatened to death so she discloses the whereabouts of her husband or son.
In another incident, Mr. Nabeel Rajab's mother who is 78 years of age and suffers from problems in her respiratory system, risked suffocation when their home was assaulted. In the early morning on April 18th, 2011 tear gas canisters were shot in the house by unknown assailants. However, the tear gas canisters used in Mr. Rajab's house are only available and allowed to be used by Bahraini security forces.
Attacks and insults at checkpoints
Women are subjected to frequent harassment at checkpoints. They are interrogated about their participation in Pearl Roundabout, and personal matters such as how many siblings they have, their religious affiliation, and their job. Their mobile phones are also inspected, including their private pictures and messages. They are also subjected to insults, profanity and threats.
A teacher reported that she was made to leave her car at a checkpoint in Hamad Town (Roundabout 7) and forced at gunpoint to lie on the floor and remove her scarf. A security man then made her clean the shoes of the police standing there with her scarf. As she was doing so, one of the policemen kicked her from behind and she was left wriggling on the pavement until she was allowed to go back to her car.
Threats and attacks on female activists
What furthermore confirms the aim of suppressing any women's movement in Bahrain is the attack directed against well-known women activists who have influential local and media presence. On March 23rd, the house of Dr. Munira Fakhro, a political activist and member of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad), was assaulted twice by Molotov cocktails . One of the Molotov cocktails hit Mrs. Fakhro's bedroom window and another one hit another window in her house. The Molotov cocktails were originally aimed to hit some timber that was in the house. As a result of the petrol bombs the façade of the house was stained in black. Two days later was the second attack when a side door and windows were smashed and two strange smelling gas bombs were thrown in the house. A month after the events, the authorities still don't seem interested in catching the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
The well-known writer and journalist Lamees Dhaif, was first targeted by spreading messages with fabricated stories against her honour and reputation. Then on March 14, 2011 masked men attacked her house with Molotov cocktail and ammunition . Some cars that were in the house were destroyed. As a result of these threats, Mrs. Lamees Dhaif had to leave her house for an unknown place.
Arbitrary dismissal from work and education
The repression against the protesting women is not limited to physical abuse and detention.
Hundreds of working and studying women were interrogated about their political stand and participation in the protests. Hundreds of whom, were dismissed from their jobs due to their political views or their participation in strikes which the General Workers' Union had organised. This comes as a flagrant violation to women's right to express their opinion and right to work without discrimination on the basis of their political or religious views.
Some female employees in Gulf Air were insulted and psychologically collapsed when masked security forces raided the company's offices on March 28th. They interrogated the employees about personal matters and their participation in Pearl Roundabout. They also inspected their personal computers and their private mobile phones. The same thing happened to female employees working in Bapco on April 21st, when they were asked questions about personal and private matters which were beyond what the Commission of Inquiry is allowed to ask. This led to the confusion and inconvenience of many employees and some even collapsed and fainted, necessitating a check up by the refinery's doctor.
The University of Bahrain said in a statement that it has dismissed 200 students, both male and female , and has fired the female Dean of a college and given a final warning to a female academic professor, as well as a written warning to another female professor. Moreover, 8 students have been suspended from education for a whole academic year .
The Ministry of Education has also withdrawn scholarships to students studying abroad, including female students. A university student, Noor, said she doesn't know how to pay her rent and studying costs after the withdrawal of her scholarship. She has thought of returning to Bahrain, but it is dangerous and she can be arrested for having participated in protests against the regime's violence, in front of the Bahraini Embassy in London .
Among those who have been fired are school principals, teachers, doctors and nurses. Not only have they been dismissed but also the Labour Ministry has announced that they will not be entitled for any unemployment benefits. This puts many women in a financial crisis, especially those whose husbands have been arrested making them the only responsible for the family and children.
Severe psychological intimidation against women
In other incidents, the severe psychological intimidation used by the government's forces against a number of women indirectly lead to their death. Fatima Sayed Taqi (27 years old), suffering from sickle cell, died on March 21 after spending 7 days in Salmaniya Hospital in an unacceptable atmosphere that did not meet the needs for her condition.
She had contacted her family before her death and told them she was terrified from the security forces and the army who had besieged the hospital and occupied the wards. Also, the security forces were searching for people in the hospital using dogs!
As for Aziza Hassan Khamis (25 years old) suffering from diabetes, died on April 16, 2011 after the security forces attacked her house, looking for a wanted man. They beat him in front of her and as a result of the severe psychological intimidation, her sugar level fell sharply leading to her death.