By William Fisher
Jaleela AlSalman, Vice President of the Bahrain Society for teachers, and Rula AlSafar, President of Bahrain Nursing Society, are into the 12th day of a hunger strike to protest what they claim is their “illegitimate detention” in a Bahraini prison along with hundreds of teachers, doctors, and nurses who insisted on doing their jobs in the face of attacks and abuse from the government’s security forces.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights charges that since the Sunni government’s crackdown on the Shia majority of Bahrain in mid- March 2011, many activists, professionals and unionists have been targeted by being subject to arbitrary arrest, physical and psychological abuse, torture, dismissal from their jobs, and prosecuted at military and later at civilian courts.
The Society says the two female unionists have reportedly been ill-treated in detention and are expected to be sentenced with false accusations. They were arrested on March 29 and their hunger strike started August 2. Their families reported that the two women plan to continue the strike until they are released.
Today, one of the hunger-strikers, Ms. Jaleela AlSalman, was taken to a hospital due to pains in the chest and deteriorating health, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, head of the Foreign Relations Office of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Ms. AlSalman, the Vice President of the Bahrain Society for Teachers, is a 46 year-old mother of three. She was a deputy manager in Saba Secondary School. Her school, which has won significant awards a distinctive school with many projects and initiatives, independent from the Ministry of Education, to achieve excellence of the educational process where she was been either leading those projects or amongst the active members of the projects teams.
She has worked towards development and growth of education for both teachers and student through participation in nationwide projects, the training of teachers for ICDL certification program where she was a pioneer and was among the project team of Bahraini King Hamad Schools of the future, in e-learning.
Bahraini dissidents report that, because of her work in Bahrain Society for Teachers as a Vice President, she has been facing pressure and warnings to leave the society and stop her work as an activist for teachers and students rights, in addition she got bypassed for promotions opportunity, but she continued to work for what she believed in and advocate for the rights of her colleagues and students.
After the start of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on 16 March 2011, the leaders of the teachers society has become targeted by the regime for their calls to strike, first on 20th Feb as a protest against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Pearl Roundabout and later on 14th March out of fear over the safety and security of the students and teachers after a series of incidents in schools that put the students at great risk.
Following the attack on the Pearl Roundabout – Bahrain’s Tahrir Square -- sit-in on 16 March 2011, and the start of mass arrest campaign, Jaleela was the first from the teachers society to be arrested on 29 March 2011. Her house in Northern Sehla was raided at 2.30am by around 40 officers from the security forces without any warning.
They broke in, went to her bedroom where she was sleeping without giving her a chance to wear her veil and arrested her at gunpoint in front of her kids whom are still suffering of nightmares at night recalling their mother’s arrest where “big weapons”, as one of them, stated was held to their heads. She was held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyer for weeks before her family heard of her. They were only allowed two visits, and even so were allowed to speak to her for a very short time.
Ms. AlSalman was reportedly ill-treated and tortured in her first weeks of detention, according to members of her family and fellow detainees. They say she was beaten and kicked, verbally abused and insulted, made to stand facing the wall for nights and forced to clean toilets.
Teachers are among the groups singled out for criminal misconduct by the government controlled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Thousands of teachers have been fired from the public education system for their a”failure” to toe the party line in their classrooms.
The second hunger-striker is Ms. Rula AlSaffar, President of Bahrain Nursing Society. The human rights group says she is “an example of a Bahraini unionist woman dedicated and devoted Bahraini to developing the medical sector.”
Like the teachers, doctors and nurses were a specific target of the government clamp-down. The principal reason was that they were “guilty” of providing medical care to Bahrainis injured by government forces in the anti-Hamad demonstrations.
The government raided the main hospital, kidnapped the injured, arrested doctors and nurses, and prevented them from treating the sick.
The hunger strike "is a desperate attempt to protest against their imprisonment and the way they have been treated," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
"Amnesty International is concerned that they are being held solely because they took part in protests, in which case they would both be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally," he added.
Amnesty said the two activists started their hunger strike to protest their continued detention, while others have been released on bail.
At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since month-long protests demanding democratic reforms broke out in the Gulf kingdom. Amnesty International said. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs, it added.
These include not only doctors, nurses and teachers, but university professors and many of their students.
A so-called “independent” Commission has been tasked by the King to investigate crimes against humanity in the tiny Gulf Kingdom. But Bahrain’s pro-democracy spokesmen are attacking the international commission for “whitewashing” transgressions by the government and its security apparatus. Many of Bahrain’s protesting groups have threatened to boycott the upcoming Parliamentary elections, scheduled for September.
Press reports that The Commission had finished its work and had found no evidence of crimes against humanity were greeted with a large crowd of protestors gathering outside the Commission’s headquarters.
The Commission closed its offices and insisted its work is not yet finished.. The Commission is headed by Egyptian-born Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who has led UN investigations into alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Libya.
Meanwhile, Mehdi Hasan writes in The Guardian that Prime Minister David Cameron has greeted the crown prince of Bahrain, and a bit earlier it was reported that this same crown prince conferred with US State and Defense Department officials, and all the way up to President Barack Obama. And a bit later, American’s two most senior military officials visited Bahrain, which is home to the US First Fleet,
The Crown Prince reportedly told Obama he was concerned about “Bahrain’s image.”
Bahrain’s image is about the last thing on the minds of the men, women and children who are being arrested, imprisoned and abused.
The Guardian’s Mehdi Hasan again: “Pity the poor people of Bahrain. They have been shot, beaten, tear-gassed – and patronized.”
He continued: “On 7 March, at the height of the pro-democracy protests in the tiny Gulf island kingdom, a crowd gathered outside the US embassy in Manama, the capital, carrying signs that read ‘Stop supporting dictators’ and ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’
“A US embassy official emerged from the building with a box of doughnuts for the protesters, prompting a cleric in the crowd to remark: "These sweets are a good gesture, but we hope it is translated into practical actions."
It hasn't been.
Instead, while an international fact-finding panel keeps digging, and the government prepares to hold Parliamentary elections, there has been no let-up in the arrests, jailing and abuse of political dissidents.
The Crown Prince has plenty of good reason to worry about his country’s “image.”