Bahrain is one of the most secretive countries in the Middle East. And also one of the most repressive. He kicked me really hard in my stomach so that I wet my pants But protestors continue to defy the government and have once again taken to the streets. We demand democracy. The regime does not want these pictures to be seen. Or these stories of abuse – never broadcast before – to be heard. I thought about jumping out of the window. Would people know that I’d killed myself because I was being sexually abused? These women are enormously brave given that in these very conservative societies to talk about sexual abuse. In this film we investigate Bahrain’s human rights record and ask whether the West’s support for the regime makes it complicit in the alleged abuses. It’s been going on for 9 years. And all this time the international community has remained silent Millions of tourists visit the Kingdom of Bahrain each year. They’re attracted by its shopping malls. Is this a club? There is another one there. night life and its passion for fast cars. But we were not welcome. So what is this area? The financial district. The financial district. We had to film these pictures secretly. We asked repeatedly for access and were denied it. Nor are we alone. Since the uprising of 2011, scores of other journalists have failed to get into the country, along with NGOs such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. UN Experts have made repeated requests but they too have been shut out The Bahrainis don’t particularly like critical examinations of what they’re doing. as far as I understand, any journalists who are deemed to be critical of the regime in any way whatsoever are not getting access. Which helps explain why we’re in Turkey. Take a deep breath. A pair of unlikely revolutionaries. Ebtisam al Saegh and Najah Yusuf. They’re on holiday in Turkey, partly for the sights, but also to get away from the long arm of the Bahraini law. In my country, I don’t feel safe sleeping, because of the raids,
which happen in the middle of the night. I become traumatised at night. Even now freedom of expression is banned. And I hear painful stories of people inside prisons. Before the Arab Uprising of 2011 both women enjoyed normal lives as housewives and mothers. Since then, both have spent time in jail. and say they have suffered abuse. I know Ebtisam because of her work on human rights. Our suffering was the same. This made us bond, I get strength from her. She told me about her story I told her this can’t remain untold. My goal is that the torture rape and sexual harassment must stop. When I go to any country in the world I feel at rest. Going around without someone following you. There is time to contemplate, to see that life is beautiful. Our story begins in February 2011. Pro-democracy protestors were gathering at the capital’s Pearl Roundabout and Ebtisam went to see what was happening. There was anger from the people, they felt that someone had betrayed them. And hearing stories about unemployment. There were many sad stories of Bahrainis who were suffering and no one knew about them Najah Yusuf was also attracted to the pro-democracy protests. Up till then, like Ebtisam, she’d never been in trouble with the Government. There was a stage. The people were all gathered there with very simple demands, demanding reform. Bahrainis citizens seek a simple life but because of poverty they couldn’t find a job. Wages are very low. I felt that it was my duty to do whatever I could do for them. If someone says, ”I want my rights.” I say “I’m with you.” According to the Bahrain’s government’s own figures as many as a third of the country’s total population of just over a million took to the streets over the coming weeks. Most were Shia, many of whom felt they were treated as second class citizens. And while Shia Muslims make up the majority of Bahrain’s population the royal family, the Al-Khalifa, are Sunni. They were there asking for reform and of course the Shia have been discriminated against and many of the demonstrators in the beginning, yes, were Shia. But by no means all. There were Sunnis engaged as well. In response, the regime tried to split the Shia and Sunni protestors. The way to break that up was to play the sectarian card was to say that this popular peaceful protests, the Iranians were behind it. Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei lives here as a political refugee. He considers the revolution in Bahrain to be unfinished. They own and control all of the resources of the country. When I was 18 I was allowed by the Ministry of Education to leave the country to study because I was one of Bahrain’s best students. And I started my educational journey in the University of Brighton and graduated in a degree in electronic engineering. I worked in Britain for a year and then in 2010 I returned to Bahrain. The following year, when the Arab Spring reached Bahrain, Sayed was ready to join in. I spent months trying to find a job. And it was difficult for me to find one. I was facing challenges Because without connections it’s rare to find one. I was one of those who was really excited for change in Bahrain so I participated in the protests. But the protestors’ euphoria didn’t last long. The Bahrain government’s powerful Sunni neighbour, Saudi Arabia, helped put down the largely Shia uprising. They started shooting teargas. At the time I was sleeping in one of the tents at the roundabout. I was stopped by the riot forces and beaten up. This scar on my head is from the beating I received. I ran home and blood was all over my face and it was shocking. A state of emergency was ordered in Bahrain. On the 18th March, the focal point of the rebellion, Pearl Roundabout, was destroyed. And the prisons were quickly filling up with activists. Syed Ahmed, however, had continued to defy the regime. So we have Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei who was here on the 17th and witnessed the attack first hand. You have some photos to show I kept them on my mobile phone. I was one of the first persons to be arrested. I was kept in the detention centre for 28 days where I faced some nasty torture. The opening grand prix of the Formula 1 session which was due to be held in Bahrain next month has been cancelled Instead of holding the Grand Prix, Bahrain’s international circuit was turned into a practice track. This was the moment when the world sat up and took notice. Internationally, it was an embarrassment. The Formula 1 has been there for several years. They loved it. It was a big, big platform and people just had a very good time. The regime was able to project this image of normality and therefore Formula 1 was very useful for that because things are OK. After the uprising, the Bahraini government launched an Independent Commission of Inquiry. It was made up of international experts. There was international pressure brought to bear on Bahrain. Principally from the Americans, partly from the UK. Really a first in the Middle East. In November 2011 the Commission issued a damning report: Our investigation revealed that many detainees were tortured and abused whether physically or psychologically inside detention centres. And threatened with rape. The Bahrain government accepted the report. They made 26 recommendations. The key ones were about reforming the police and the security services. And they promised to address its concerns. They said they’d set up an ombudsman. to investigate future human rights complaints. But some close observers remained sceptical. What the report served to do was simply to enable the government to create a facade behind which they carried out their repressive regime. Over the following years the protests were largely driven underground or abroad. In 2012, Britain granted political asylum to Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Sayed had spent six months in prison in Bahrain, charged with attending an illegal gathering. The charges were later overturned and he moved to London and set up the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, BIRD, to expose the regime’s human rights record. When the Bahrain royal family came to events like this horse show at Windsor, he put on disruptive stunts. Even now I am in Britain, my continued activism is disturbing to the regime. So when the procession came to 10 Downing street to meet with the Prime Minister I was one of these who took part in the protest. I threw myself on his car and was stopped by the police. Even though Sayed Ahmed was in the UK he couldn’t escape the reach of the regime. I found out suddenly through a statement that appeared for the Bahrain news agency that 72 people had their citizenship revoked and when I looked I saw my name there. The accusations were not clear implying that I had acted against the interest of the state. It meant I had no other nationality from that day till today. After the 2011 uprising, Bahrain had changed its citizenship laws. As a result nearly a thousand Bahrainis were stripped of their citizenship. They were said to have been serving “a hostile state” or damaging the “interests of the Kingdom.” It means that you don’t have access to health care, you are not going to get a scholarship for your children. You are not going to get a job, you are basically thrown on the resources you have. You may have your bank accounts frozen. There’s all kinds of things all kinds of ways in which as a stateless person your life in made very miserable and very, very difficult. The Government of Bahrain told the BBC: All those individuals whose citizenship was previously revoked and who are physically in Bahrain have had their citizenship restored. Britain has remained a loyal ally of Bahrain. It’s a relationship that goes back decades. Bahrain was a British colonial protectorate until 1971. The two Royal Families have long been close. Since the uprising of 2011 the British taxpayer has supported the Bahrain authorities by funding a range of projects, among them police training programmes in Northern Ireland. Why is it that over the last 6 years Bahrain has had about 6.5 million pounds of taxpayers’ money? Paul Scriven sits as a Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords. He’s long felt that Britain’s relations with Bahrain are too close. It gives Bahrain a fig leaf of respectability and a shield that is hiding the human rights abuses. In 2017, Donald Trump’s arrival as US president came as good news for Bahrain. “Together we will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come.” Trump was hostile towards Iran, which was covertly supporting elements of the opposition in Bahrain. So it’s a great honour to have you and your representatives here. Crown Prince, thank you very much.” And the US president supported Iran’s great rival, Saudi Arabia, itself a staunch defender of the Bahrain regime. The signal was very clear get on, do what you want, behave with impunity, we are not watching you anymore. It doesn’t matter. Soon protests in Bahrain were gaining fresh momentum. That January, three protestors had been put to death by firing squad, the first such state executions since before the uprising. They had been found guilty in what the government of Bahrain describe as “fair trials,” of killing 3 police officers in a bomb attack. Their supporters claimed the confessions were extracted under torture. Now, with the Grand Prix once again coming to town, activists like Najah Yusuf expressed their protests by using social media to post against Formula 1. There was a hashtag being used for the F1 race. “No No to formula 1 and Formula blood”. There was an excessive crack down There were arrests. There were death sentences. My cousin Mohammed Radhi was sentenced to death during the run-up to the Formula 1. A week after the Grand Prix, the Bahraini authorities spotted Najah’s social media activities. I received a call from the security complex in Muharraq. Najah thought the authorities were after her activist son. In fact, she was their target. She was summoned to the Muharraq security complex and questioned by men she believes were from the National Security Agency. He told me to unlock my phone willingly or he would force me to do it. I was scared. Because my son was here with me in the same complex and I have another son who had been arrested. So I opened the phone with him looking over my shoulders and he took it. Then he suggested to me that I work with them I knew they wanted me to spy for them. I went home I was mentally tired and now what Do I work as a spy? On my family? My people? No. Impossible. The next day I went to the security complex, he asked me what my decision was? I said I won’t work with you. He said do you know what we are going to do with you? He was threatening to fake an accident that will kill my children. This is the first time that Najah has told her story on TV. We can’t independently verify her allegations. But they’re consistent with testimony given by others to the Bahrain Independent Commission and subsequently to international human rights charities and the United Nations. So the first thing he did was to hit me on the head. I started to see darkness. He was hitting as hard as he could. I was screaming and then he sat me down on a chair and he started to harrass me, to sexually harass me. I thought this can’t be true. What is happening to me? I told them I want to go to the washroom. As I went to the washroom, I screamed: “I am in the hands of those who don’t have mercy.” I felt like I was a weak person. I feel weak, insulted, humiliated instead of a woman in an Islamic society. I thought of jumping out of the window. But no, It would be replacing one type of hell with another. Would people know that I killed myself because I was sexually harassed? Abused and insulted? The interrogator was there with others threatening me with rape. And he brought someone working in the reception. He threatened me, Saying this person will assault you in front of all of us here. All these people are witnessing my situation. And they are watching calmly Laughing and smiling, enjoying watching me suffer. It was something that gave them pleasure. Najah was to serve a further three years in jail
for “inciting terrorism”, a charge she denies. Each week, she was allowed to use the phone for 30 minutes. In 8 July 2017, within weeks of the alleged abuse, she called Sayed Ahmed in London. The hardest moment that I had as a man was when Najah talked to me about what she went through. I am nervous to speak about it. You need to speak out because if you don’t I can’t help you He put his hands in… It was one of the most difficult phone calls that I’d received. He was saying “how many times have men ridden you?” and he would put the interrogator on speaker phone and would say to me “I want to ride you”. While he was saying this Did he already have his hand [on you]? Yes he was already touching me. I kept trying to pull my clothes down to cover me. The nature of the attack was so violent that it destroys the dignity of the person. Did you scream? Tell him to stop? Yes. By now, Ebtisam Al Saegh had also emerged as a vocal critic of the regime. She had a large following on social media. In May 2017 she was called in for questioning at the same Muharraq Security Complex, where her friend Najah had been held. This was scary and frightening for me. The interrogation rooms were very scary. Imagine yourself in a dark room unable to recognise people because it was so dark. They were 5 to 6 men with questions coming from many people. Two of them close to me. I could feel the heat from his breath by my ear and the other was standing behind me. We can’t independently verify her testimony either. But it is consistent with what has been reported to international bodies. It was a scary situation for a woman. Any woman around the world would feel degraded when their personal space was invaded. It is even harder for Muslim hijabi woman. Men are supposed to respect us in Muslim society. I was taken to a dark room. Someone was beating me on my head. They sat me down and one of them took a black blindfold and put it on me Then he started yelling questions and punching and beating me. He kicked me really hard in my stomach so that I wet my pants. I asked him ”Does the king of Bahrain know what is happening in this room?” He punched me again in my face he ordered me to stand and open my legs. Someone held my hands from behind my back. He started touching me while I was clothed and that was the first stage. I said stop. You are assaulting me sexually and this is not allowed it is illegal and inhumane, it is not part of our religion, stop! But he didn’t stop and carried on more and more. He asked me to reveal the names of the human rights activists. He said he could do whatever he wanted. Even Allah, we put him in the drawer and lock him inside. I said I don’t know anything. 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. They were the longest hours of my life. I was broken down. Inside Muharraq Security Complex, Ebtisam was allegedly being tortured and raped. Outside, her husband was waiting for her. It was the first night of the holy month of Ramadan and he wanted to take her home to break the fast. They told me, “your stupid husband he is standing there with a sandwich for you.” We can see him waiting on CCTV. He continued to sexually assault me. I wished to die. After seven hours Ebtisam was released. When my husband touched me I fell to the ground unable to walk. And I was screaming with hysteria. These women are being enormously brave in these very conservative societies to talk about sexual assault. It’s hugely, hugely difficult. Their enormous courage in speaking up and being prepared to publicly tell what happened to them, when they were held in prisons in Bahrain. This is Muharraq security complex , where the alleged torture of both women had taken place. It was under the authority of Bahrain’s Chief of Public Security. Major General Tariq al-Hassan. In a written statement to the BBC, the Major General said: “No evidence was found that proved any wrongdoing had occurred. I entirely condemn all forms of mistreatment and abuse of authority…” Three years earlier, at British taxpayers’ expense, General al-Hassan had visited Northern Ireland ‘to observe and discuss the range of reforms to policing’ being undertaken there. Then in 2017 Tariq al-Hassan accompanied the Bahraini Crown Prince as part of a delegation to the United States. We’re doing a lot of business. They are buying a lot of things I heard nine billion dollars is thrown about. That’s a very nice trip and we appreciate it. We had a long relationship and a great relationship and it will only get better. While Ebtisam and Najah were in prison, Sayed Ahmed wrote to the British Foreign Office to report their allegations of abuse. In response, the FCO said: “The British Embassy in Bahrain is seeking further information from the authorities concerning the details of these cases. The UK continues to encourage the Government of Bahrain to deliver on its international and domestic human rights commitments.” No further action was taken. The UN was campaigning on behalf of the women too. They wrote to the government about the allegations of torture. The UN appealed to the Bahrainis to: “Take all necessary measures to put an immediate halt to the alleged violations, to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Alsaegh and to prevent their re-occurrence.” Ebtisam Al Saegh was charged with
‘using human rights work as a cover to provide information and fake news about Bahrain to undermine its status abroad…’ After three months she was finally released from captivity. The Bahraini government declined the BBC’s repeated requests for an interview. In a written statement they said: “The Kingdom maintains a zero tolerance policy towards human rights violations… It neither practises nor tolerates the torture or mistreatment of prisoners.” They said the Kingdom’s independent oversight institutions had investigated the allegations made by Ebtisam and Najah but concluded
“there was no evidence to support [their claims]”. Despite the allegations of torture and rape, the British Foreign Office continued to seek out partnerships between the Bahrainis and the British police. This time at Durham, in the northeast of England. In July 2018, at the Foreign Office’s request, Durham Constabulary announced a training programme for the Bahraini police. They sent a team to Bahrain to meet senior security officials, including Major General Tariq al-Hassan We should be making decisions based on our relationship; not just on trade, not just on Bahrain being a secure strategic base for the UK, but also on human rights abuses. And it doesn’t seem that’s happening. Durham Police said the training was to enable Bahraini officers to make better use of forensics in their investigations. In a statement, they added that “Officers…have made a number of visits to Bahrain and met officials to ensure that the training programme is being delivered in line with agreed standards. We believe that our engagement with Bahrain provides an opportunity to influence positive change and promote human rights by improving the quality of objective evidence used by the police.” The British establishment’s links to Bahrain go all the way to the top. Since 2011, Prince Andrew has undertaken 35 separate engagements with the Bahrainis, including three visits to the country. While he was Chancellor of Huddersfield University, a role he’s recently had to give up, a degree programme was created for Bahrain’s Royal Academy of Police. The course included lectures on “security science, crime scene science and…investigative forensic psychology.” Prince Andrew is a personal friend of the King of Bahrain In April 2018 Prince Andrew visited Bahrain. While in Bahrain, Prince Andrew met students of the police academy, where the regime is said to have carried out torture against its opponents since 2015. In the same month Prince Andrew visited the academy and went to this college where the torture took place. I don’t know if it was on exactly the same dates or not. We wanted to know what due diligence had been done on the Police Academy and whether it was appropriate for Prince Andrew to visit it His office told us: “Any questions around courses run by the University and the role that a Chancellor plays would be a matter for the University of Huddersfield.” Huddersfield told us a Chancellor takes: “No part in developing courses or choosing partnerships for the University, as such, we can confirm that HRH had no involvement whatsoever in facilitating nor developing this course.” What does worry me though is that individual institutions, whether universities, whether it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whether it is the police force, they talk about having a due diligence [process]. But when you start to drill down due diligence around some of the individuals you have mentioned who are seriously implicated by the UN, for example, for human rights abuses. If they had a robust systematic and effective due diligence particularly about human rights, they would never contract with organisations like the Royal Academy of Policing. Sayed Ahmed has collected testimonies of individuals who say they were tortured at the Bahrain police academy since 2017. In the light of these allegations, we asked Huddersfield University to justify their course They said: “The course is part of a programme the Academy has introduced to expose its officers to international police experiences, improve their leadership skills and solve security issues effectively.” In a statement to the BBC the Bahraini government said: “The allegations regarding the Royal Academy of Police are simply false.” The government also said it urged the prisoners to raise “any complaint or grievance with the relevant oversight institutions.” Najah Yusuf, meanwhile, was still in jail. By 2019, the international calls for her release were growing louder. The UN “called upon the Government to ensure Ms. Yusuf’s physical and mental integrity.” Najah was finally released from prison on the 10th of August 2019. Her old friend Ebtisam was waiting outside the gate. When I saw Ebtisam I felt hope. Lord Scriven believes Formula One could have acted more effectively on Najah’s behalf. My view is, look, you have been in this game longer than me, unfortunately when the spotlight went off, once the Grand Prix had been held, it would seem again, the F1’s priorities seems to be the glitz and the glamour and the money of F1, and not human rights abuses. F1 have got a moral responsibility. In a statement to the BBC, a spokesman for Formula One said: “We take violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously.” At all times throughout this case we have engaged with relevant parties and made proactive enquiries into Ms Yusuf’s situation.” Ebtisam and Najah are now free citizens. But back in Bahrain they have friends who are still in jail. One of those is Hajer Mansoor. She’s the mother-in-law of Sayed Ahmed, seen here speaking on the phone to her in prison. I have felt suffocated since the beginning of the month. She was detained for three years on terrorism charges which she denies. Hajer says that during this time, she’d discovered a lump in her breast, but that the medical treatment provided was inadequate. In the last visit the doctor said my lump had increased in size. But there was no follow up [appointment]. No, they didn’t take me to a follow up. While before they said it was a problem and they should follow up. In a written statement, the Bahraini government told the BBC: “The claim that she has been denied access to medical treatment is groundless Ms Mansoor has at all times had access to all appropriate health care.” Amnesty International and the UN have both campaigned for Hajer’s release. But neither has been allowed to enter Bahrain. According to the UN, the Bahrain government did not address the legal basis for Hajer’s continuing detention. For now the demands of the protestors remain unmet. On the street, there are echoes of 2011. In February 2020, crowds gather after the death of an activist, Sayed Kadhem Abbas, months after his release from jail. Like Hajer, he said he’d been denied adequate medical treatment. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights took up his case with the Bahrain regime – to no avail. The Bahrain government told the BBC that Mr Abbas had received
“the proper medical care including regular appointments with a specialist.” And it added:
“Bahrain continues to go to great lengths to provide all those in custody with full healthcare and medical treatment.” As the anniversary of the 14th February uprising approached, protestors were on the march. Once again, Ebtisam is at the heart of the action. I am in a peaceful demonstration in one of the villages in Bahrain we demand democracy. What the country has been through, a state of terror and fear, it has been going on for nine years. And the crisis is still ongoing while there is silence internationally. There are oppressive operations and killings and systematic violations and international cover up, all happening to the people of Bahrain. But there are some rays of hope. On 5th March, Hajer, Sayed’s mother-in-law, finally got out of jail. Ebtisam and Najah were there to greet her. Welcome back. My love, my love! The women remain determined to make their voices heard. Despite the risks, they believe that speaking out will give some protection when they are in Bahrain. Ebtisam has come to Dublin to gather evidence she believes will support her story of abuse. She is going to be examined by a humanitarian organisation, SPIRASI, which focuses on survivors of torture. It was my dream to receive this report and to have official proof of what happened to me. I couldn’t obtain it in my own country. I will fight to get it in any country in the world till I obtain justice. It is a devastating form of abuse. I think for anyone of us It would be appalling. The challenge for us when we meet people after the events have happened, are that those methods of torture frequently leave no evidence. On one level you are bearing witness to her description of events, on another level, in providing a medical legal report that interprets my findings, and correlates them with international guidelines, helps reinforce the veracity of her account of events. Which I would hope will be valuable to her. Spirasi’s report does not prove Ebtisam’s allegations. But it does support them. “Her psychological assessment demonstrates profound symptoms of anxiety and depression supportive of a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress disorder consistent with the alleged report of torture.” Despite international condemnation of Bahrain by the UN and others, the United Kingdom and the USA both remain its loyal allies. The BBC invited the Foreign Office to take part in this film. Instead they gave us a statement: They said that while Bahrain’s independent human rights oversight bodies “still have more to do, they have already demonstrated their abilities and credibility including through the prosecution of almost 100 police officers under criminal courts, accused of human rights abuses, as well as 60 police officers who have faced internal Ministry of interior disciplinary processes.” It is now 2020. On March 11, The Bahrain regime told the BBC that over a thousand prisoners were locked up for “assaults and public order offences”. The opposition described them as political prisoners. The following day, March 12, 901 of them were granted a Royal Pardon. 12 prisoners remain on death row. Major General Tariq al Hassan has been promoted to Lieutenant General and remains in charge of the country’s domestic security.