Bahrain: Still fighting for change
Bahrainis who were featured in a recent episode of People & Power have now either been arrested or are in hiding.
People and Power Last Modified: 05 Apr 2011 14:15
Hasan Mushaima, Ali Abdelemam, Sayed Ahmed al-Wedaie and Ibrahim Sharif have either been arrested or are in hiding after they were interviewed on Bahrain: Fighting for change
On March 9, 2011, Al Jazeera English broadcast an episode of People & Power profiling the February 14th Youth Movement protesting at Bahrain's Pearl Roundabout.
Since then everyone who was interviewed on the programme has either been arrested or is in hiding. We are receiving messages detailing how they are moving from house to house to avoid capture and texts saying "help us, help us".
Sayed Ahmed al-Wedaie says he was attacked by police
Al Jazeera's team had met Sayed Ahmed al-Wedaie on Pearl Roundabout a month ago. He was excited about the prospect of democratic change and keen to explain what had brought him out to protest.
He had already suffered at the hands - or rather, boots - of the police.
He told us he was attacked while sleeping at the roundabout and that the police kicked and hit him.
"At least 10 policemen attacked me and continued hitting, hitting. I was bleeding, I was tasting my own blood. The only thing that stopped them was that I pretended I was completely dead," he said.
After appearing on the programme al-Wedaie was arrested while driving near the airport on March 15. For three days no-one knew what had happened to him. When his parents eventually saw him at a police station on March 18, his face was a mess of bruises and he could barely walk. He told them that police had had to take him to hospital after beating him so badly on his first day in custody.
He had already foreseen what was likely to happen to him for speaking out. In the programme he said: "We are going to be destroyed by all means. They'll target us one by one, one by one. Whoever appeared on camera, standing brave enough to tell the world 'we don't want this regime ...' will be a target in the future. I think it will be really dangerous."
There has been no charge against al-Wedaie. The police originally threatened to charge him with murder but now, his brother says, he may be taken to a military court to answer charges of having an ornamental knife in the borrowed car he was driving when he was arrested - a charge that could see him serve three years in prison.
State of emergency
The Bahraini government has arrested more than 300 opponents of the regime since the imposition of the state of emergency on March 15. But they do not want the wider world knowing about this.
On March 28, the military public prosecutor imposed a media gag, banning "any publishing, through print, audio, video and online media, based on the requirements of discretion and commitment to the principle of confidential investigation" - in line, it says, with the state of emergency.
On Wednesday, March 30, masked men in seven police cars descended on the home of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender in Bahrain, when he was being interviewed by a CNN crew. They were all detained; the CNN crew was kept for four hours.
Bahrain had stopped production of its main opposition newspaper Al-Wasat [Reuters]
And on Saturday the only independent newspaper in Bahrain, Al-Wasat, was instructed by the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) not to publish its Sunday edition.
A Bahrain TV programme accused Al-Wasat of maliciously publishing misleading information which directly and deliberately posed a real threat to the kingdom's security and stability.
After the programme, publication of the newspaper was suspended and its officials were referred for investigation.
Al-Wasat is a rare mouthpiece for independent and opposition views. It had come under physical attack before and was struggling to keep getting the paper out.
Editor Mansoor al-Jamri had been threatened many times. On Sunday, he and the managing editor resigned in an attempt to save the paper. Al-Wasat came out today with a new editor and managing editor, but people on the ground say it is already clear that it is not the same paper it was before.
A leading journalist in the country said that newspapers and TV in Bahrain are controlled by the ruling family and the IAA is not under parliamentary supervision but reports directly to the king. It has close associations with the National Security Agency, whose deputy head is now head of the IAA. "The Bahrain News Agency (BNA) and the IAA are an integral part of the National Security Agency. News agencies like Al Jazeera are not tolerated and those who speak to them are deemed terrorists and traitors," the journalist said.
From the start of the protests in February the government made it difficult for foreign journalists to get visas for themselves and their equipment to enter Bahrain. One journalist who is currently in Manama and did not want to be named, said it is almost impossible to move around with a camera as the town has many checkpoints and drivers are scared to take them.
He described how some key places are particularly protected from prying eyes. At Salmaniya Hospital, for example, which has been the scene of state security brutality against medical staff and abduction of patients and which is still ringed with security forces, it is impossible to film. The roofs of buildings surrounding the hospital have been closed off and residents living there have been warned not to let journalists enter. Similar constraints have been placed on hotels where journalists are staying.
Meanwhile the clampdown continues, increasingly un-covered by the media. The Bahrain Human Rights Council reports that 370 people have been arrested since the imposition of the emergency law on March 15. Seventeen of the estimated 24 people who have been killed since the protests started, have died since March 15.
So-called citizen journalists are continuing to expose the brutality meted out against unarmed Bahraini youth.
Sayed Ahmed al-Wedaie understands what happens when no-one is watching. Now there is media present in the country, but later there will be no-one to see and report what goes on behind bars.