Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Zahra Al-Shaikh in her first interview following her release

Prior to the introduction.. Prior to the interview
Dear Minister of Interior Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa
Below is my interview with a Bahraini citizen descending from a respectable, religious family. She is at the same age as your daughters. To you I dedicate this interview.
I would like you to know, if you haven’t already known, what your riot police do, those who you referred to as your “brothers”, said that they were eloquent, mentioned that they abide by the law, and praised their efforts in serving people. I want you to see how people’s chastity was humiliated and their dignity was trampled in your jails with the help of your personnel.
This interview will be held against you, not in front of people or the court but in front of our creator on judgment day, where Zahra and scores of other detainees in your jails will ask Allah: Where is my right?
I know that what will NOT be said is more than what will be said.
Lamees Dhaif
Zahra Al-Shaikh in her first interview following her release:
He put his hand on my breast.. so I bit him!

“I admitted to the persecution, I didn’t deny.. why should I deny? I was defending myself.”
She said with the voice and spontaneity of a thirteen year old girl. At first, this young lady surprised me with her innocence, but when I interviewed her, she surprised me with her logic and strength.
This is Zahra Al-Shaikh, a university student majoring in Media who was arrested lately. Her case has created quite a stir in social media. She was released but her trial is still ongoing in court. I was keen to interview her and share her agony with the world because I feel guilty for not covering her story earlier.
I asked her:”Are you sure you want to speak up? Don’t you fear their retaliation?”
“I want everyone to know the truth, no matter how painful, insulting, and degrading it might be. I have to speak”

On the Ominous Day

-“Why did they choose you in particular? Why didn’t they target anyone else in the march?”
-“There was no march. When I reached there, the riot police have dispersed a gathering called for by AlWefaq. The place was empty except for tens of police cars and a few of the rioting crowd. I was gonna go back but then decided to photograph the riot police while they perform their duty. Aren’t they proud of what they do? I managed to take a few shots and I thought that no one had noticed me until I glimpsed Captain Ghazi Al-Eesan approaching me. I came to know his name later of course. I ran to my car, but he stopped me near it and addressed me by my name. He asked me to give him my ID card, pushed me violently, and pulled away my university ID that was dangling from my car’s mirror.”
-“Why didn’t you give him your card?”
-“He scared me & didn’t give me a chance to think when he surrounded me. But I ran after him when he walked away with my university ID because I had an exam two days later and I would have not been able to sit for it without the ID. When he ignored me, I pulled the tip of his sleeve. He turned to me, and without thinking he called the police. They attacked me. One of them placed his hand on my breast so I bit him to remove it. Here the Captain ordered them to handcuff me.”
Her voice suddenly got louder as she evoked and then narrated her experiences in detention:
“They pulled me into the police car. I began to scream and cry out of pain. I begged them to open the handcuffs which were so tight that blood clotted in my veins. One of the police held a pepper spray next to my face. “Shut up or I’ll spray you” he said. His breath intoxicated my body.”

In the police station.. a place where law does not exist

- What happened next?
- “They took me to the Exhibition Center police station where they interrogated my friend and left me until the women’s shift was over and then they took me to Captain Ghazi who seemed like a different person. We had the following conversation:”
- Zahra you didn’t do anything and we apologize for what the police had done to you.. “I will show you what I will do to him” he said. We will release you today but we need a favor: testify that Nabeel Rajab asked you to woo Rashid Al-Jowder and take the photos from him.
-“Who?” I asked
- Rashid who was naked in the photos distributed on social media.
- But I do not know Rashid in the first place and Nabeel Rajab did not ask me to do anything.
- “I know.. I know” said Ghazi, “it’s a favor, after which you will be released”
- No, I said firmly, I won’t harm someone who serves us.
- He thought for a while then said “Then say it was Yousif AlMuhaftha or Naji Fateel”
- Who? I don’t know any of them and I will not accuse any innocent person.
- It’s not worth all the torture and humiliation. I want your best interest, then in a whispering voice he said, “I will give you an hour to think”
- Not one hour nor two days, I said firmly. I will not admit what I do not know.
I asked her: “How did you get the courage, Zahra, to challenge the Captain this way?”
- I don’t know but I felt that Satan is bargaining with me and I had to refuse all his offers. What I had never predicted took place, Lamees. He called upon the Pakistani police who were outside: “Strip her naked!”
- I did not believe they were stripping my clothes. I expected them to beat me with rubber hoses, hang me, or burn my body like they do with other detainees. I had never imagined nor expected them to remove my clothes one piece after another.
Did you hear that, Minister of Interior?
They stripped her naked, your Excellency.

We ask for God’s rage

- Was there any female police officers with you at that time?
- I wish, just those “wolves” and myself.
- They claim that female police have to be present during any investigation with lady detainees.
- In the fantasy world, she said sarcastically.
- What happened next?
- The Captain approached me with a long, thick stick and shouted at me:
- I will place this in “….” If you do not listen to me.
- I screamed with anger, and there was a metal closet on my right. I pointed at it and told him “See this closet… even if you put it… I will not do what you want”
He raised his hand and slapped me with all his might, a slap that lifted me off the floor. I didn’t fall, however, because they were holding me from every side. I found myself amidst repetitive kicks and slaps from the police. I was surrounded by them in that tiny room. I did not get hurt from their beatings as much as I was hurt from the way they stared at my body.
Minister of Interior: Have you heard, your Excellency?
This is an indecent assault that is criminalized by all religions, Minister of Interior.

Women’s Prison

I was arrested at 4 pm and taken to the women’s prison at 4 am during which I didn’t even get water to drink. The female police were surprised that I was taken there at this time.
- I do not want to imagine the state you were in. I’m sure you were in a state of shock, horrified, and probably crying constantly.
- “Not at all”, she said. During that night, my mind went blank. I did not think of prison, what went on in the interrogation, or in my mum who did not know where I am, and I was not allowed to call her either. I did not think about anything except my exam that was going to be held after two days.
- Shockingly, I said,”How come?”
- “Yes, I broke down after a few days. But at that night I couldn’t think of anything. It was like I was semi-conscious; half of me in a nightmare while the other half is myself. Do you understand what I’m saying?” She said.
- I totally understand.
- Next day Captain Fareeda was surprised when I told her that I wanted to study for my exam. She was kind with me, probably because she pitied my young age. I asked them to bring my books, and she provided me with a corner to study. Some of the female police officers are kind and merciful while others were aggressive and tend to humiliate prisoners.
-Do you know they strip us naked whenever they take us to the interrogation, although we are with them?! They separate our legs and examine us shamelessly. If the walls of the prison had the chance to speak up, they would have recited the atrocities taking place behind them.
Did you hear that, your Excellency?

In the Public Prosecution

- On the day of my exam they took me to the public prosecution.
- Who interrogated you?
- I do not know his name.
- Ok, go on.
- I explained why I bit the policeman. I told them what happened and what they did with me. A member of the police, Maryam Al-Ahmed, who escorted me tried to influence his decision and prevent me from talking. But the interrogator reprimanded her and said: Don’t interfere with the Public Prosecution’s work. I was released on bail, BD 50, and they agreed to take me to my exam.
- “You talked to him about the exam?”, I said jokingly.
- I know this sounds strange but the exam was the only thing on my mind and it was the reason behind my crying.
- It’s one of the tricks of the human mind; it escapes the devastating pain by engaging itself in an idea that doesn’t cause as much pain.
- Really? May be.. because if I were to think about my chastity, my torment from the beatings, or my sick mother I would’ve died.
- Why weren’t you released on that day, then?
- In the police car, Maryam made several phone calls. I heard her say:”Do something, the prosecutor had released her.” I never imagined that the decision can be disabled. When we returned to the police station and while my sister was completing the release procedures and paying the bail, one of the female police approached us, threw the money in our faces, and say: “The prosecution’s decision was wrong, you won’t be released!”
- I cried like I have never cried before. I told them: “Imprison me all my life but allow me to sit for the exam”.
- Surprisingly the officer extended her leg in front of me and said:”Kiss my feet and I will allow you to do the test”. I was crying, but suddenly I burst laughing. I don’t know how a person can cry and laugh at the same time, but this is what happened to me.
Minister of Interior: Did you see the ill treatment of your “brothers” towards the detainees?

A new chapter of horror & Al-Jowder

Handcuffed and blindfolded, I was taken outside Exhibition Center and beaten in order to confess against Nabeel Rajab and Yousif AlMuhaftha. They threatened me with family members. I heard them say his name while he was stepping on my stomach to the extent that I couldn’t breathe. It was Rashid Al-Jowder, I memorized his voice and later on I recognized him when I saw him in one of the torture sessions from the pictures that were available on social media. I cannot remember what happened next because I woke up in the hospital.

The nervous breakdown & the drugs

They took me to the fort’s hospital every night. I only spent two nights at the prison without going to the hospital. My blood pressure increased dramatically each night, may be because I wasn’t crying. They gave me pills that caused nausea so I stopped taking them.
One night I started to scream hysterically and did not stop. All the inmates woke up because of my screams and they told me later what I said. I was begging them not to take me to Rashid Al-Jowder or anyone who would touch me!
Did you hear that Minister of Interior?
I know you did.


When I was released I threw myself in my mother’s arms. I didn’t care about anything else. I smiled.. something I could not have done in jail.
Zahra told me that she is still steadfast and she asked me whether I was too.

This was my interview with Zahra, your Excellency, a lady as young as your daughters.
What do you think of her experience? Or are we a different type of people for you to really care about? What do you think of your personnel’s, or “brothers’ ” as you address them, behavior inside your jails?

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