Jawad Fairooz does not look like a man who in the space of 3 months has had his citizenship removed, been sentenced to 15 months in prison forcing him to stay away from his wife and children, as well as learning that his elder brother had been missing for 2 weeks only to find out he had been detained and sentenced to a year in jail. Not that the previous year and a half was any better for Fairooz, during which time he spent 3 months in prison, where he was subjected to a horrific program of torture. Two years ago Fairooz was the elected Member of Parliament for Bahrain’s Northern Governorate, District 8. Now he sits in a café in London contemplating how a man can go from an elected MP to stateless in less than 2 years. Welcome to democracy in Bahrain.
“On 14th February 2002, when the constitution was imposed on the people,” he begins, “it was a clear indication that certain confrontations would start between the state and the people. A confrontation between the opposition and the Palace.”
BJDM: So you were expecting to be targeted?
JF: Yes I knew that whoever stands against tyranny would pay a high price and without it there could be no true reforms, no true freedom and no true dignity for the people. Keeping in mind if you want to be a true representative of the people you should never forget what their demands are. They weren’t looking for simply better living conditions; they want a full share in the power based on a contract between the people and the AlKhalifa family. In my case I was a member of the Municipal Council from 2002 to 2006 and then an elected member of parliament from 2006 until 2010, until I resigned in March 2011. All of this has given me certain obligations and made me be closer and closer to the demands of the people, which in turn made us targets of the regime, as we were the ones trying to expose their corruption. We gave them enough chances to show good will or to take the correct path, but it became clear to reach that point there was going to be clashes between the people and the regime.
BJDM: So were you targeted before 14th February 2011?
JF: After the National Charter was implemented a space opened up for us to begin to work openly and establish political societies and I was a founding member of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society. Therefore my name began to be well known amongst the official agencies, which intensified once I became Vice-Chair of the Northern Municipality Council, during which time I organised many peaceful demonstrations.
I was first targeted on 25th May 2004, whilst organising a demonstration against the war in Iraq. We started from the cross-section of the Seef Area, on the road towards the Pearl Roundabout and at about halfway the Police blocked our movement. My position was to protect the people and encourage them to turn back around, but before I had a chance I was shot at directly with rubber bullets to the head. I knew at the time that I was being targeted specifically and it was confirmed during my time in prison in 2011. During an interrogation they told me, “That incident was a lesson to you and it seems you did not take it seriously.”
But never the less I continued to do my work and stand for my principles, refusing to back down. In the Parliament I was a loud voice against corruption, against political naturalisation, against discrimination and was a main contributor of the Bandar Report. I raised questions about torture, I stood against the Minister of Interior and it was so clear that I was targeting many key figures within the ruling family and that was annoying them so much. During my detention they brought all of this up and asked me, “Who is Jawad Fairooz? Who are you to raise questions of Minsters of the Royal Family?”
BJDM: When did you first become involved in politics?
JF: Well I was following the political struggle in my country when I was a student studying in the United States but I was not involved directly until the
uprising of the 1990’s. We used to work behind the scenes to run demonstrations, write leaflets and we used to meet with Sheikh Abdulameer Aljamri, Abdulwahab Hussain, Hasan Mushaima and the other leaders. During that time our demand was for the implementation of the constitution and parliament to be restored.
BJDM: But why did you feel compelled to be involved?
JF: It’s part of my personality, to be against dictatorship. As a person I want the people to be free, I want dignity, it is my natural instinct as a human. At the same time when you come to Bahrain you see a very small country with a very low population and although resources are limited, poverty is so high. At the same time you see the ruling family controlling everything, with so many palaces and they are gaining from the people’s budget and taking from our income for their own personal pleasure. Definitely, even if you don’t want to be a politician you will be forced to, because whatever is surrounding you compels you to do so.
BJDM: So you became an MP in 2006, and what were your priorities?
JF: We had certain goals to achieve. Firstly to try to raise the voice of the people, even though we knew this parliament was powerless, but at least we could use it to raise the voice of the people to the international community and through the media. Secondly, at least it gives you a chance to raise corruption in the system with a certain level of immunity. Thirdly it was to give us the chance to make change from within the system. So many of our friends advised us we could make a change and we said we would try it and give it a go. But it was very quickly clear that the system was so sophisticated to stop any change from the opposition.
BJDM: Did you feel disappointed with what you achieved?
JF: Well no because we knew we had done our job the best we could. We tried to work with the other blocks at times, giving them a chance to be with us on the files we had opened, such as state properties, housing and so on. We had another plan to work with the rest of the blocks for the second term from 2010 to 2014 but it was quickly becoming clear that we had to apply pressure on the Government, peacefully, from the outside too. We were expecting that the people would be in the streets and we planned to unite under the banner of a constitutional monarchy as a main goal for the opposition in Bahrain. In this regard it was a real chance when the Arab Spring came for us to be with the people in the streets to raise the clear demands for serious reforms to be implemented.
BJDM: So you weren’t surprised on 14th February 2011?
JF: Part of it was no surprise, we knew the people would be there, they would stand for their rights and protest but it was a surprise the number of people and from different sectors of society who came on to the streets and stayed out for so long. Through the years we were used to dealing with certain types of youths, human rights and political activists but on 14th February all types of people were there. From sportsmen, to physicians, to lawyers, to teachers, to journalists, householders and taxi drivers’, indicating the anger was so deep in the people. It was a clear message to us as MP’s if you really represent the people then be with them because here are the people. If we ignored this and didn’t join the people we would be blamed historically for not being there. We would be fooling ourselves if we thought we could take both positions. At that moment the choice was to be with the regime and their institutions with no legitimacy or be with the people in the Pearl Roundabout and I think we took the right decision at that time.
BJDM: How surprised were you by the response from the authorities?
JF: We were expecting a harsh response but not that harsh. It was clear from day 1 that the regime was taken by surprise but immediately the developed two plans but purposefully undermined the first plan. Plan ‘A’ was to try to maybe talk down the people by giving some promises through dialogue with the Crown Prince, but at the same time they planned for a military attack from that day by preparing the ground and making a certain agreement with Saudi Arabia. 14th February until 15th March is not that long a period for them to make a mobilisation, so it did not come suddenly, it was part of the plan that in both cases they would win. If they won by a dialogue that does not give any real demands of the people then it would be a success but if that fails military intervention is ready and will control everything.
The real surprise was how dare they deal with the people so violently to shoot them directly and take so many into jail and use such heavy torture. In the mean time sacking so many people from their jobs, even those who were not at the roundabout! Just because they have a name that sounds Shi’ite! They made it clear that if you were not directly working for and loyal to the regime then you were an enemy.
BJDM: So we’re talking about the response from the authorities. This marks the beginning of your personal story. Can you take us through it?
JF: The first indication that they were targeting me started on 11th and 12th April 2011 when during the security emergency law twice they attacked my house at 2.30am in the morning. It was so clear this is a message to me and they will be after me. The first time was worrying but the second time made it obvious that I was being targeted personally.
On 2nd May 2011 at 8.30pm they came for me. I had received no call that they would come, they just rang the bell and said we are security, here for Jawad Fairooz. 3 men entered my house, 2 with their faces covered carrying guns and another carrying a camera. I asked them to show ID but they told me “you will see it later.” I asked if they had a warrant but they told “you will see it later.”
I went with them outside of the house and they immediately blindfolded me, put me in the car and took me to what I later realised was a military camp where they began to question me.
During the first 3 days I was taken twice to what they said was the health centre. They told me they were treating me but with poison not medicine. They slapped me, swore at me, laughed at me and told me you are not in a health centre you are in a torture chamber. This happened twice.
I was then taken to the National Security Agency jail, which is underground. The cell was 1 metre by 1 and a half metre, where I was isolated for 45 days, speaking to no one, when you are taken out you are blindfolded so all you ever see is that tiny room. The real nightmare began on 18th May 2011……
They took me to the military interrogator and in the rest hall they continued the torture. I was not allowed to sit and was forced, with beatings, to raise national slogans. As I was still blindfolded they would tell me to move forward, making me hit against walls. They said, “Now you are in Saudi Arabia. Here they hate Shi’ites. That day before interrogation they took us to Al Grain Prison where they put us in the direct sunlight and started to beat us. During interrogation we complained to the prosecutor that we had been beaten badly and he said he would speak to the Guards. But when we went back to the Guards they beat us even harder as punishment for complaining.
That time I was with Matar Matar, a former MP colleague, Sheikh Mohamed Habib, Sheikh Abduljalil Miqdad and Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman, who are all witnesses to what happened. We were supposed to go back to our cells by bus, but they dragged us off the bus and started to beat us, that late in the night, using sticks, shoes, hands, on our face, all over our bodies. After the beating someone said, “Sheikh wants Jawad Fairooz”. They dragged me across the ground and took me to “Sheikh”. He told me, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.” I couldn’t see him because I was blindfolded but he held what I thought was a gun to my head and said, “I could shoot your right now but I don’t want to spoil my hands with your blood.” Then he started to beat me with two other guards joining in, all over my body for around 30 minutes. Then he told me “We have electrical tools ready for you but now it is too late. You will come back here again and I will be ready for you.”
The dragged me back to the bus, to take us back to the NSA jail but before the bus left a man entered the bus and asked for Jawad Fairooz. I had to raise my hand and identify myself to him, so he came over and started shouting at me and beating me again. He used horrible sexual words against me and tried to sexually harass me. It was such a bad feeling to know you are being targeted this way in front of your colleagues, everyone hearing what he is saying to you but you cannot express any emotion, you cannot cry, cannot tell him to stop.
The action was so harsh it even affected the driver of the bus. When he was driving out of the gate he told the guard at the gate, “you need to try to stop your people in this camp, they are not human, and they are animals.” I could not move for three days after this.
Another example of treatment in the NSA jail took place in the shower room. The shower was less than one metre from the sink area so they would remove the blindfold and let you walk to the shower with you head down. One time I did as usual but a guard came and asked me why I had moved without his permission. I told him this was normal but he beat me in the shower and held me there alone for 2 to 3 hours. During this time he told me you used to be an MP, a respected man, now look at you here with me.
But the worst feeling in prison was when I heard they had detained my wife. She is not involved in any political life, they detained her from school and in the mean time they took her to one of the police headquarters next to my house and applied torture on her badly for many hours, just to force us to farbricate stories against me, but she did not say anything because there was no evidence. When I heard this later on it affected me so badly, how dare they do that.
BJDM: So eventually you were freed?
JF: Yes after pressure from the Bassiouni Commission I was released 3 months and 7 days after being arrested. When I was freed I said to myself if I stay quiet this will happen again and we have to raise what has happened loudly so it is not repeated. We will pay a high price but we should not let this continue for a generation so I continued to be active.
I wrote in details all of my experience in prison to the King, the Minister of Justice, Minister of Interior, all authorities and then I made a claim to the prosecutor but they ignored it completely.
I knew something else was in store for me when the case of Matar Matar was ended by declaring him innocent of all charges. Despite this, my case would not be dropped and I knew it was not the end of me being targeted. They changed the judge in my case from an Egyptian to a Bahraini, loyal to the regime.
BJDM: What news from the authorities did you receive after your release?
JF: Nothing officially, only through Twitter, well known pro Government accounts would attack me. They started saying that something else was coming for me, that I am a foreigner and an Iranian agent, so I felt something might happen but mostly I did not take it seriously. This was until suddenly the date for my final verdict was brought forward from January 2013 to 7th November 2012. So I decided to take a week break in London to see what to do next. As I boarded my flight I had no idea what news would greet me when I touched down into London………..
The second part of Jawad Fairooz story will be published later next week.