Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bahrain Cracks Down on Teachers

By William Fisher

First, Bahraini authorities went after scores of doctors and nurses – as punishment for treating wound sustained by security services shooting live ammunition at peaceful protesters.

These health workers have been charged before military courts and their trials are pending.

Meanwhile, the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s royal family has been meeting with senior Obama Administration officials, and with the president himself. A member of a Sunni royal family that rules a predominantly Shia nation, the crown prince told reporters he was concerned about Bahrain’s “image.”

The Obama Administration has been trying to help the royal family to find a peaceful way out of their version of The Arab Spring, since Bahrain enjoys a key strategic position as home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain also represents a delicate foreign policy challenge for Washington, since Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Sunni neighbors and Saudi and UAE troops have been dispatched to Bahrain by the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell the pro-democracy protests.

Now, Bahraini security forces have begun a protracted vendetta against the nation’s teachers, arresting at least 66, and subjecting them to torture, and putting them on trial before military tribunals.

The teacher arrests have been going on since April, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, a spokesperson for the beleaguered Bahrain Commission for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization.

The BCHR claims that arrests took place at schools and at teachers’ homes, and that teachers were summoned to police stations.

“Not only were members of the Teachers’ Union targeted but teachers themselves as well, being subjected to severe abuse and torture by the brutal Bahraini regime” the BCHR charged, adding, “66 cases of teachers’ arrests have been reported to the BCHR, although the number is believed to be higher. Female teachers have been highly targeted as almost 74% of the cases reported were cases of women arrested. At least 15 Girls’ schools have also been repeatedly targeted by riot police, where both teachers and students were subjected to arbitrary arrests from the school campus and taken to police stations where they were physically abused.”

Typical, the organization says, is what happened on April 11, when three teachers from Al Busaiteen Elementary School were called to the principal’s office while teaching in class, to then be escorted by three policemen in civilian clothes to the police station, where they were interrogated from 11am to 1.30pm. Three more teachers were taken in the following day, where they were interrogated and insulted while blindfolded. Nine other teachers were called on May 20, to be present for investigation in Al Muharraq police station from 11am to 4pm before being released.

The BCHR charges that this sequence of events has been repeated numerous times.

On April 19, and during the intensified nightly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in their villages, it was decided that a band from the National Guard would be playing in Yathreb Intermediate School for girls in a day of loyalty to Bahrain’s leadership. The school consists of a majority of pro-democracy students and such a move to host a day of loyalty seemed to aim at provoking the students.

In the morning, many riot police were stationed outside the school’s gates as well as a number of policewomen inside the school, which caused a feeling of fear amongst students and teachers.

Mona, one of the teachers, said that policewomen started attacking the pro-democracy students and teachers after false allegations from some pro-regime students that they were chanting “Down with Hamad (King of Bahrain)”. That is when the policewomen started going to every classroom along with some of the students and teachers to identify those who had supposedly chanted the slogan.

They would take the girls to the school courtyard, beating and insulting them on the way and forcing them to stand facing a wall under the scorching sun. Mona continues, “We teachers, could not do anything. We would be shouted at and insulted whenever we left our offices. Two of my colleagues, Khadija Habib and Mahdiya were arrested that day and taken with the students to the police station”.

Mona says that the next day riot police was completely surrounding the school and filling it with policewomen who arrested 8 teachers that day, taking them to a police station where they were subjected to humiliation and physical torture. On 5 May 2011, the administrative supervisor of Yathreb School was summoned for investigation and then released and on 9 May 2011, more than 10 teachers were summoned to a police station, 3 of which were arrested and tortured and on 19 April then released.

Until few days before the end of the national safety status, the raids on schools continued, and on 25 May at 9am, 4 policewomen came to Al Qairawan Intermediate school for girls, with a list of 25 teachers to be taken to the nearby police station, after all teachers were in the meeting room, their bags, flash memories and laptops were confiscated before they were escorted to a bus where they were brutally assaulted and ill-treated.

Many more schools were attacked and even a larger number of teachers were arrested, interrogated, charged baselessly for going on strike, and participating in peaceful protests in the pearl roundabout or in front of their schools. They were also falsely accused of inciting hatred towards the regime. All these accusations demonstrate the Bahraini government’s illegal violation of teachers’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

There has evidently been evidence of torture and humiliation. The BCHR reports that Ali Al Banna, a teacher and member of the Teachers union, has been in custody for over two months. His family was allowed very few visits, reporting that he was blindfolded for around two months.

One of the female teachers says, “Around 10 policewomen were asking me and beating me at the same time then they handcuffed me and kept beating me on the head and back while kicking me and stepping on my feet. They would push me to spin until I lose my balance and fall, all while being insulted verbally and made fun of”. She continues saying that they made her call her colleague and lie to her to come and when she arrived, she was beaten, insulted and tortured the same way.”

A teacher named Sameera was called for investigation along with her other colleagues where they were all insulted and made ridiculed. They were made to stand the whole time and when asked any question whatever answer they give would get them severely beaten. She says that one of her colleagues who had detained brothers, was beaten very roughly on the face and head that she could hear the sound of the beating from the corridor where she was waiting for her turn, according to the human rights group.

Layla, another teacher, had her head stitched after it was smashed on the wall. Layla’s colleague, who had had a major back surgery was kicked on her back repeatedly after she told the officers about her surgery in hope of better treatment.

One teacher who spoke to Agence France-Presse (AFP) said she was threatened with rape if she did not confess to taking part in protests. "You'd better confess. Otherwise, I'd take you to the other interrogation room where men would make you talk" she said, quoting an officer's threat. The woman was dragged from her workplace along with other Shiite colleagues. In the bus to the police station, policewomen slapped their faces and made chant pro-monarchy slogans, she said. She asked AFP not to disclose details about her job because police warned them not to talk about their ordeal while in custody. The woman said she eventually confessed to taking part in demonstrations at Pearl Square, epicenter of the anti-regime protests, and also to protesting at work.

In the police station, other teachers were also brutally beaten using a stick with nails, asked to take their clothes off and a dog or a cat was brought to the investigation room for one of the teachers while she was blind folded to scare her. They were made to stand facing the wall from 10am to 3pm and were not allowed to go to the restroom until 3pm, when they gave them permission to go to the restroom and sit only on the floor.

Teachers have also suffered work Suspension, layoffs, salary cuts, and deprivation of pay.

The Ministry of Education’s actions varied from deductions in salaries to complete cuts in salary for months to suspensions. Some teachers, despite attending work throughout the ongoing strike, were subjected to this injustice, either being suspended or sacked.

BCHR received the complaints of more than 30 teachers who had their salaries partially deducted to amounts varying from BD40 to more than BD200. Other teachers were not paid for months. In Al Dair Elementary School for girls 33 teachers were not paid since March out of a faculty of 50 teachers; that is almost 66% of faculty.

Other teachers were suspended, 23 teachers from one school, Ruqaya Elementary School, although numbers not confirmed but it is believed to be dozens.

Furthermore, It has recently been reported that a number of teachers have been sacked, although not officially announced. The Unions Federation in Bahrain reports that 60 employees have been sacked from the Ministry of Education, mostly believed to be teachers.

Sacking teachers is an ongoing process, the organization claimed. It said 13 teachers were fired just last week, July 7, from Imam Al Ghazali Intermediate School for Boys allegedly for calling for strike and protests while there were no protests in the school at anytime as teachers confirmed; sacking decision are being communicated verbally to teachers without any documents proving it.

On June 5 2011 the Minister of Education, Majed Al Noaimi, stated that “Teachers will not be sacked by the end of the school year. Also, all teachers under investigation are getting paid.” This statement has proved to be wrong as many teachers have already been sacked and their salaries cut.

Two teachers, Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jaleela Al Salman, were among the first educators to be presented before military court for their position in the Bahrain Teachers Society as president and vice president. On June 6, they pleaded not guilty to “of inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlets, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal gatherings”, their case was adjourned to June 15, as the military prosecutor stated.

Khadeeja Saeed, a teacher who was detained for three days in April after being arrested her from Yathreb Intermediate School, was sentenced in June after a military tribunal to three years imprisonment.

The BCHR says, “Teachers who have been arrested and some of those who underwent interrogations by the Ministry of Interior were informed that they will be summoned anytime for their trials, therefore, it is expected that more teachers and educators will be presented before court to be prosecuted in the days to come.”

The Shia majority in Bahrain has long complained that it is discriminated against in employment, housing and many other aspects of daily life.