They Taser-Shocked Me and Called Me a Liar: A Bahraini Journalist's Saga in Detention
Black smoke billowing from burning tents in Pearl Square in Bahraini capital Manama during the uprising against the government.
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In May 2011, almost a year and half after a Tunisian street vendor’s self-immolation sparked waves of revolution still rocking the Middle East, Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed was tortured during her 13-hour detention before signing a confession she was not allowed to read.
Saeed, who had been covering Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement for France 24, was blindfolded, slapped, kicked and beaten with a hose in Riffa police station where she had voluntarily gone for questioning.
She was charged with fabricating news reports, working with Iranian and Lebanese channels and being part of a terrorist cell. A photograph of her covering a protest in the capital, Manama, is the only evidence she’s seen.
Following complaints from France24, Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior launched an investigation that resulted in the acquittal of one female officer two years later.
Saeed was never tried or sentenced. Lingering psychological trauma prevented her from fully returning to work for six months.
Though King Hamad of Bahrain’s ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa family has urged for reform in the Shia-majority island kingdom, freedom of association and online activism are severely restricted, while charges of torture and unfair trials continue to surface.
More than 60 people have died since protests began in February 2011.
On Jul. 9, Bahraini officials said two attacks in a Shia-majority village left one police officer dead and at least three others injured.
“My country was not violent before Feburary 2011,” Saeed told IPS correspondent Jasmin Ramsey. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: What is press freedom like in Bahrain?
A: Since two years ago, it has not been easy for us journalists to work. The freedom we were used to has been reduced. We have to be careful with each and every word we write and say in our coverage. We can be arrested; we can be interrogated just for using certain words.
Q: What happened two years ago?
A: Two years and four months ago the uprising started in Bahrain. People went into the streets inspired by the Arab Spring, asking for more freedom, democracy and accountability. But there was a huge crackdown and maybe that’s why people in Washington and other cities don’t really know what happened.
Maybe they know that at one point people went out to protest in Pearl Square for a month, but since then they may have heard little to nothing because most of the protestors were either arrested, sacked from their jobs or left the country because they felt they were in danger. Some were killed.
Q: Can you describe what happened to you while in police custody?
A: On May 22, 2011, I got a call to go to the Ministry of Interior for questioning. Sometimes they come to your house, sometimes they call. I am a journalist. I thought it would be good to cooperate. I thought it wouldn’t be more than a couple of hours so I didn’t inform my family, I only told France24 on the way to the station.
A male officer met me and said it’s better I tell him everything because it’s useless to lie. He said they had all the videos, phone calls and pictures that prove I’m guilty.
Q: What did they charge you with?
A: There were three charges. Fabricating reports and news, dealing with Iranian and Lebanese channels that I have never worked with, and they accused me of being part of a terrorist cell – its media element.
I said where did you get this from if I didn’t do these things?