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Bahrain's calculated campaign of intimidation

Bahraini activists and locals describe midnight arrests, disappearances, beatings at checkpoints, and denial of medical care – all aimed at deflating the country's pro-democracy protest movement.

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Some, like Ibrahim, say they’re now staying at home because of the danger they might face at checkpoints. He says he was driving with two friends this week in Hamadtown – a mixed area of the capital – when masked soldiers stopped them at a checkpoint, beat them, and then took them away. Their mobile phones and a laptop computer were taken from them, a common occurrence at checkpoints lately.

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Describing his experience soon after his release, he says the soldiers took branches from a nearby tree to beat the three youths, hit them with rifle butts, and kicked them in their faces and backs for about 20 minutes. Indeed, Ibrahim’s back is striated with long bruises and abrasions, and his arm is deeply bruised. His soft-spoken friend Khadim, who was also in the car, also displays a bruised back and a swollen face.

The friends were blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken to a police station, where they were held for about 36 hours. They were not allowed to notify their families, and were kept handcuffed the entire time, they say.

As Ibrahim describes the ordeal, he is interrupted by a phone call from his mother. Though he is just down the street from his home, she’s worried, and wants him to come back. Khadim says the only two members of his family who go outside the neighborhood are his father and brother, and that is only to go to work.

Nightly raids on the rise

Yet unlike Ibrahim and Khadim, many do not even consider home a safe place. Nightly arrest raids have been increasing, and usually involve police breaking down the door in the early hours of the morning.

Youssef, a young man from the Shiite village of Kazarkan, says he has not slept at home for two weeks for fear of being arrested during the middle of the night. And Ali Mohamed, from the largely Shiite village of Nuwaidrat, says his family hides their valuables every night in anticipation of another raid. His father, who is close to an opposition leader who has called for the overthrow of the regime, was arrested more than a week ago at 1 a.m.

His story is similar to dozens of others – security forces kicked down the door without warning, and arrested his father, who was in bed, without allowing him to dress. They forced the rest of the family to face the wall and showered them with Shiite slurs as they arrested Mr. Mohamed’s father. Mohamed says the police took seven mobile phones, one laptop, and three desktop computers. The family has not heard from their father since he was arrested more than a week ago.

And Ibrahim joins a host of others too afraid to go to a hospital to treat wounds. Though he was worried about the injury to his ear, he refused to go to the hospital for fear he would be rearrested there.

Authorities are systematically finding hospital patients whose wounds appear to be protest-related, and forcibly transferring them to hospitals under military control, sometimes beating them, according to Human Rights Watch. HRW researcher Faraz Sanei, who has been documenting such cases in Manama, describes watching security personnel enter the room of a severely wounded patient who had been shot by police with birdshot and was in a private hospital. The security personnel forced the wounded man from his bed despite his great pain, and took him away in an unmarked car with a police escort, says Mr. Sanei.

In some cases, the government has prevented wounded protesters from getting medical care, according to HRW.

Determined to press on

Yet while some Bahrainis are living in fear, they also say they won’t give up their struggle for their rights. Youssef continues to supply information about events in his village to human rights organizations, and Ibrahim said he will continue to protest.

“What I'm sure is, the people came out, they have goals, they have grievances, they have legitimate demands,” says Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “You can silence them for the short term, but you can’t silence them forever.”

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