Ibtisam Al-Saegh and Najah Yousif Break Silence in Bahrain: BBC Arabic

2020-03-25 - 10:07 p

Bahrain Mirror: Najah Yousif, a Bahraini woman, told the BCC Arabic that she was tortured and raped in a security complex after protesting against Formula One in 2017. Another woman confirmed that she faced similar abuses in the same complex few weeks later. Bahrain Mirror publishes a summary on "Breaking the Silence in Bahrain" film.

When the Arab Spring reached Bahrain in February 2011, Najah, a mother of four, was among many of people who took to the streets to demand better living conditions for the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

According to the Bahrain's government's own figures, as many as third of the country's total population of just over a million took to the streets over the coming weeks. On March 18, the focal point of the rebellion, Pearl Roundabout, was destroyed.

The Bahrain government's powerful Sunni neighbor, Saudi Arabia, helped Bahrain put down the largely Shia uprising.

Fearing further negative media coverage, the government cancelled the F1 race that year - a reaction that was universally claimed as a victory for protesters.

After the uprising, the Bahraini government launched an Independent Commission of Inquiry. In November 2011, the commission issued a damning report. The commission's chairman Cherif Bassiouni said: Our investigation revealed that many detainees were tortured and abused whether physically or psychologically inside their detention centers and were threatened with rape.

The Bahraini government accepted the report and promised to address its concerns.

Among the key recommendations were about reforming the police and the security services. The government also said it would set up an Ombudsman to investigate future human rights complaints.

"What the report served to do was simply to enable the government to create a façade behind which they carried out their repressive regime," Gulf specialist Bill Law said.

In 2017, the regime intensified its campaign against activists. In April 2017, Najah resorted to social media outlets to post against the Formula One, in order to raise awareness of the government's repressive measures.

A week after the Grand Prix, I was summoned to Muharraq security complex for investigation: "The interrogator was there with others threating me with rape. He brought someone working in the reception and threatened me saying this person will assault you in front of all of us."

Najah says that she signed a confession without reading it. She was then transferred to the women's prison. Each week she was allowed to use the phone for 30 minutes. She called a Bahraini activist in London and told him that she was raped in the security complex.

A F1 spokesman told the BBC: "At all times throughout this case, we have been engaged with relevant parties and have made proactive inquiries about Ms. Yousif's situation...with the Bahraini authorities directly."

Najah is not the only case to face this alleged dangerous abuse, as Ibtisam Al-Saegh faced the same fate in Muharraq security complex.

She told the BBC Arabic about what happened to her. "Someone held my hands from behind my back. He started touching me while I was clothed. I said stop. You are assaulting me sexually and it is illegal."

"He asked me to reveal the names of the human rights activists. He said he could do whatever he wanted. He took my pants down and started assaulting me with his finger and telling the guy behind me to assault me from the back. I fainted and collapsed to the ground."

Ibtisam was sentenced to 3 months in prison over terrorism-related charges. However, she denies these charges.

It's been two years since the alleged abuses Ibtisam suffered. Dr. Nicola Cochran, forensic examiner at SPIRASI, an Irish organization interested in survivors of torture talks about Ibtisam state: "Her psychological assessment demonstrates profound symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is supportive of a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. It is consistent with the alleged report of torture."

SPIRASI'S report doesn't prove Ibtisam's allegations but supports it.

The Bahraini government told BBC that the kingdom maintains a zero tolerance policy towards human rights violations. It neither practices nor tolerates the torture or mistreatment of prisoners. The Kingdom's independent oversight institutions had investigated the allegations made by the two women but concluded there was no evidence to support their claims.

BBC also investigated whether Britain and the US have been complicit in the regimes alleged human rights abuses by providing training and funding to Bahrain's security forces..

Being Bahrain's head of internal security, Major General Tariq Al-Hassan is ultimately in charge of the security complex in Muharraq where the alleged rape took place.

Tariq Al-Hassan told the BBC in a written statement: "No evidence was found that proved any wrongdoing had occurred...I entirely condemn all forms of mistreatment and abuse of authority."

In 2014, at British taxpayers' expense, Al-Hassan visited Northern Ireland to observe and discuss the ranger of reforms of policing.

Al-Hassan was among a delegation received by Donald Trump in November 2017, i.e. several months after the United Nations and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office received reports on rape and sexual assault allegations.

In July 2018, at the Foreign Office's request, Durham Constabulary announced a 2-year training program for the Bahraini police to make better use of forensics in their investigations. Tariq Al-Hassan was the one who signed the contract on the Bahraini side.

Lord Scriven, a member of the House of Lords of the Liberal Democrats, has long opposed Britain's provision of training to the Bahraini security forces. "Why in the past six years has Bahrain received £6.5 million of taxpayers' money?" he asks.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office told the BCC that the United Kingdom is committed to supporting Bahrain's reforms, including through cooperation in bringing about progressive changes to Bahrain's judicial system and democratic systems. We believe that only by working with the government will we be able to achieve these improvements that Bahrain and the international community are seeking.

Arabic Version