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Bahrain's abuse of dissenters: four detailed cases

A pattern of widespread abuse emerges from these cases, including detention without trial, beatings, and lack of access to lawyers and family.

By Roy GutmanMcClatchy Newspapers / May 26, 2011

An elderly Bahraini man walks past a wall spray painted with political graffiti and painted over again many times Sunday, May 22, in the western Shiite Muslim village of Malkiya, Bahrain.

Hasan Jamali/AP

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The first sign that Bahrain's security forces were going to detain former Bahraini parliamentarian Jawad Fairooz came at 8:30 p.m. May 2, when about 30 masked men carrying submachine guns broke down the front door of his house.

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"What are you doing in my house?" Fairooz's wife screamed as the men, some in military uniforms, flooded into the front hall. One pointed a submachine gun at her head. "Where is Jawad?" he demanded.

Fairooz, a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, had been elected to the Bahraini parliament in 2006 and again in November 2010, but he'd resigned in February to protest police violence against peaceful demonstrators who were demanding democratic reform, Bahrain's response to the "Arab spring" toppling of dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

Now he was about to feel the brutal force of Bahrain's crackdown on the opposition.

Fairooz is one of about a dozen prominent opposition leaders and human rights advocates now behind bars in the island kingdom, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet. President Barack Obama referred to them in his speech last week on the Middle East, in which he pointedly told Bahrain that "you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail."

A detailed examination of Bahrain's arrest and treatment of the dissidents shows widespread and systematic abuse that raises questions about whether the country's Sunni Muslim government has crossed a line beyond which it can't restore social peace in the predominantly Shiite Muslim country.

Interviews and email exchanges with relatives of four of the jailed politicians yielded startlingly similar stories of dramatic and humiliating middle-of-the-night raids by 30 to 40 masked gunmen, followed by weeks of beatings and abuse in custody. None of the men has been charged with a crime.

The police often directed anti-Shiite slurs at the distraught families. There were neither warrants nor judicial procedures, and the arrested politicians were held in solitary confinement without access to family or lawyers.

Jawad Fairooz had a simple request for his captors as he descended the stairs to meet them from the upper floor of his well-appointed home. "Can I change my clothes?" he asked. It was out of the question.

His wife lost her composure. "Stop screaming or we'll take your kid," they responded, referring to her 17-year-old son, Amin.

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