One Year On; Ahmed Tells His Story of State Violence in Bahrain (14 February, 2012)
Testimony of Ahmed (39 yrs, Bahrain)
I was protesting on a daily basis in Pearl Square. I was there when the first crackdown happened on Black Thursday at 3am in the morning on 17th February 2011.
After Black Thursday Pearl Square was evacuated. A few days later the people returned to the sit-in in Pearl Square and they remained there until the Saudi troops came in. They set our tents on fire, they stormed the whole square with tear gas. There were apache military helicopters above.
We tried to extinguish the burning fires but at the same time we were being stormed with tear gas. We were trying to protect the women and children. Some women and children panicked and collapsed, we tried to evacuate them and provide first aid.
During the whole crackdown and the evacuation, telephone networks were shutdown and roads were blocked by army tanks and lines of troops. The crackdown took about an hour. Salamaniyah hospital was not accepting protesters, it was shut down by the military. Injured protesters were taken to places of worship like mosques to get treatment.
I was shot with a bird gun using clusters of small bullets. I was shot by around 40 cluster bullets which are still in my body. I went to a private hospital but I didn’t receive any treatment because the hospital was invaded by military troops not long after I arrived. There were more than 80 people in the hospital at that time.
The medical staff tried to hide the patients. The main entrance was barricaded but the troops shot it down with their guns and literally stormed the hospital. Medical staff opened the fire exit, trying to help people escape.
There were definitely Saudi troops involved in the raid because I heard their accents and I can confirm that I saw Saudi uniforms amongst the Bahraini troops. Later on Saudi troops were given Bahraini uniforms in order that they would not be identified.
During the crackdown on this hospital, protesters were arrested and taken away with tubes in them and their drips still attached. At least two patients were killed during the raid. The troops took all the medical reports and identity cards of patients in order to hide documentation of who witnessed the raid.
I did not escape through the fire exit, I hid in the medical storage facility for 8 hours with around forty-five other people.
As some protesters had already escaped behind the hospital, police began to surround the hospital and the entire area to catch the protesters.
The medical staff from the hospital were watching out for us. Most of them were expats, mainly from the Philippines, and that is why they were not arrested. They helped us escape in small groups, five at a time.
There were snipers on the high buildings surrounding the hospital. When I left, I was with four other protesters and we escaped in a car. We avoided the main highways and took internal roads until we reached a point where everything was blocked and we had to leave the car behind. Eventually I got home. I was badly injured and suffering immense pain. I couldn’t leave home for a week and I couldn’t access any medical treatment.
Later on I heard the news that thirty of my work mates had been arrested. I was employed by the Ministry of Education as a security guard.
During the central protest, we had also organized delegations of different workers from different industries who marched in distinct blocks to illustrate that the opposition to the Al Khalifa government was broad. These protests were self-organised by groups of workers and were not organized through trade unions. Strikes were organized by the trade unions.
Later on, the Federal Union of Workers called a general strike whilst political groups and youth movements were organizing the street protests.
The situation was chaotic with arbitrary arrests. I was staying at home expecting that at anytime my house would be raided and I would be arrested, especially after the incarceration of my work colleagues.
The Ministry of Education sent me a letter asking me to attend an investigation regarding the organization of the protests. On that same day, I went to a travel agency and asked for the next flight to Thailand. I booked it and left later that day.
At the airport, Bahraini officials stopped me and interrogated me for two hours. I had specifically chosen Thailand because it is a popular tourism spot for Bahrainis. During the interrogation, I lied and said that I was going on a holiday during the chaos. They strip searched me and then let me go.
I flew to Thailand and from there I applied for a tourist visa for Australia. I tried to get medical treatment in Thailand but other Bahrainis advised me not to as some other Bahrainis seeking medical treatment in Thailand were immediately deported back to Bahrain because there is a strong relationship between Bahrain and Thailand.
I arrived at Sydney airport around 25 May. I wasn’t familiar with the process of claiming asylum and so I tried to convince Australian immigration that I had come for tourism. They interrogated me for five hours. I didn’t have enough money to qualify as a tourist so I then admitted I was here to seek asylum and that I couldn’t return to Bahrain. I was then interrogated for a further five hours in the same room. A shift change of workers happened. The interrogation continued until 11pm. I was absolutely terrified during the whole interrogation process because of the thought that I might be deported back to Bahrain. I must acknowledge that the conduct of the officers was ok, they brought me water and food. I later explained to them that I was badly injured and in need of immediate medical treatment. They listened and tried to make me more comfortable.
I was then taken directly to Villawood Detention Centre. They showed me a television program outlining the rules of the facility and then I was given a room. I was very exhausted and fell asleep.
I made Villawood aware of my medical condition, that I still had around 40 cluster bullets in my body. After two days they sent me to get an x-ray. After one week, the results returned and I was sent to a doctor who explained that whilst I have bullets all over my body, some of them have reached the skull and others are embedded so far into the flesh that to remove them would deform and deface me.
The recommendation of the doctor was to leave them in because the side effects would be worse if they were removed. Whenever it gets cold, I feel chronic pain all around my body. I have around 40 bullets in my body. I managed to remove one myself from my index finger which was very close to the skin.
I was in Villawood for one month and ten days.
My home has been raided three times since I fled the country. My wife and three daughters have been intimidated by the military. My children are terrified. When they raid a house, they literally storm it. They storm every room in the house, they inspect everything, the drawers, the bed. The troops have stolen money and jewelry from my home.
I have a wife and four daughters who are 9 years, 8 years, 5 years and 1 year old.
I am trying desperately to bring them here. I have submitted an application but the process may take up to two years. I am very anxious and depressed. When I call my children, they cry and they say everybody else has a father but they don’t have their father.
Without exaggeration every Bahraini expects that at anytime, anywhere, their house may be raided, they may be subject to arrest, torture, or turned into a corpse.
Many women and children are in detention at the moment. There are cases of children as young as 12 and 13 years old in detention. There is no security. People are living in constant fear.