Testimony By Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights
I arrived at Bahrain airport on Turkish airlines from Istanbul to Bahrain on the 30th of August 2014 and the time was approximately 1am in the morning. As soon as I got off the flight there were two police women in uniform and two men, one of them in a police uniform the other one in a white uniform, who I later found out was a passport control officer, right at the exit of the plane.
I walked past them. I heard them say “excuse me” but I kept walking. When they said Maryam Al- Khawaja I answered yes and it was the man in the white suit who was speaking to me. As soon as I had gotten off the plane and as soon as our conversation started there was another man in civilian clothing who was videotaping everything that was being said; I later came to know that his name is Salman Mohammed Mahmood. The passport control officer told me that my Bahraini citizenship had been revoked and that I was no longer welcome in Bahrain.
I asked him on what basis had my citizenship been revoked to which he responded that he was informing me that it has been revoked and that was all that mattered.
I told him that I could not take his word for it and that I want to see an official paper or document that said that my citizenship has been revoked. They asked me to turn around and get back on the flight and I refused and said I am starting a hunger strike as of right now until you allow me into the country as I am here to see my father, to visit my family and because I have a right to enter the country as I am a Bahraini citizen.
After that they escorted me to the security area for transit flights. As I sat there they were talking to me, there were different security people coming and going. The officer in the white uniform again told me that my citizenship has been revoked and I told him that I know the Bahraini law and I know that if my citizenship was revoked then there would have to be a royal decree announcing it as well as having the decision published in the local newspaper and none of that had happened and thus there was no way that my citizenship had been revoked.
He told me he was telling me verbally now that my citizenship had been revoked and I told him that won’t cut it, that I want an official document saying that my citizenship has been revoked.
Around that time, two women arrived who were in civilian clothing. Later on I found out that they were First Lieutenant Hayat AlHassan, or Hayat AlSalmabadi, and the other was Dana who appeared to be taking orders from the Lieutenant. There were other female police who were in uniform, as well as several male officers, and their captain. He was in a blue suit different from the other police officers, so you could tell that he was higher ranking.
The entire time the guy with the video camera kept recording everything that was happening. I was making phone calls and I notified my family and colleagues that I had started a hunger strike and I spoke to my lawyer and asked him to come to the airport and to inform the Danish embassy and that I had been stopped. I also informed my mother and the police that I already had injuries, one in my right knee which was bandaged and difficult to move; and another in the palm of my left hand which was also bandaged and painful. Both wounds were the result of an accident I had prior to my trip to Bahrain, and both had been infected causing a delay in the healing.
The police threatened to take me back on board the flight to Istanbul by force and I informed them that given my knowledge of the rules of the IAA I know that the flight is unable to take off if I inform the pilot that I refuse to be on board the flight and if I make a fuss about it. After I said that they seemed to have backed off the decision of using force to put me back on the flight. At that point Lieutenant Hayat was on the phone speaking to what appeared to be someone who was her superior given that she kept saying ‘Sidi’; a title used to address superior officers. At one point I heard her say on the phone “what if she uses force on us, what if she attacks us?”
When she got off the phone I told her that I am telling you now and there’s a camera as well as other people listening that even if you use force against me I will not raise a hand. She said no why would we use force against you, we would never use force. I responded “I’m glad to hear that but I am telling you that even if you do I will not use force in response.”
I received a call from my lawyer when the police captain as well as the uniformed and civilian clothed police came and stood around me. They waited for me to finish my phone call and then they told me to hand over my phone. I asked them if I was under arrest to which they said no. I told them there is no legal basis for me to hand over my phone and why would they want my phone. They continued to ask me to hand it over and I said no. I told them “if you want me to switch it off and not use it I am fine with that but I will not give you my phone”. So they asked me to switch it off and put it in my pocked, and I asked to make one last call to inform my family. The man in civilian clothing who I later came to know was Fawaz AlSameem kept saying no phone call sounding angry, while the police captain insisted I be allowed, and that he will bear the consequences. I called my mother and informed her that I will be switching off my phone, which I then did and placed it in my pocket.
After which they asked me to go into the waiting room in the same security area and I cooperated. They escorted me to the room where there were three other women but as soon as I entered the room the three other women were escorted out of the room and so I followed them. When I walked into the room for the first time I noticed that the three women did had access to their mobile phones contrary to what they were telling me that it was regulations to not allow people in the waiting area to have their mobile phones on them.
Lieutenant Hayat told me you have to go inside and you have to wait there, and I said well why are you escorting the other women out? Adding: “it makes me concerned about what you might do to me if there are no witnesses”. She responded saying no of course we won’t do anything to you, there is nothing to worry about and I said well I don’t trust you, I know what the authorities in Bahrain are capable of. She tried to convince me that it was for my own comfort that the other women were taken out of the room. I said I am completely fine with having them in the room with me. That was when the police captain’s attitude changed and he threatened me saying that so far he had been treating me well and I would not want that to change.
Lieutenant Hayat then told me that she personally guarantees that my phone will not be taken from me, that they will not use force against me if I go back in the room and that they will allow the three women to stay with me in the room. She also told me that I would be allowed a phone call to my family when I make the request, that I would be allowed to see my lawyer when he comes to the airport and that I would also be allowed to see a representative from the embassy if they come as well.
I told her that I am only agreeing to go to the room because you made all those guarantees not for any other reason and she said yes I personally guarantee it. I walked into the room and sat down, she sat to my right and I noticed that as soon as I sat down the three women were escorted out and the policeman with the video camera immediately switched it off.
Within seconds Lieutenant Hayat jammed her knee above my right hip and grabbed my right arm (I was holding my phone in my right hand). As soon as she grabbed my right arm she started screaming at the three others, Dana, Budour and a police woman they were calling “Manoor” to attack me and take my phone. Budour and “Manoor” were the same two police women in uniform who were waiting outside the airplane when I arrived. When the four of them started assaulted me, I immediately stretched my left hand away in an attempt to keep them from hitting my wound. Lieutenant Hayat yanked my right arm several times very roughly which I later on found out caused a tear in my shoulder muscle. They opened my hand and took the phone. When it was over, I was roughed up and in pain all over; I had severe pain in my injured knee, right shoulder, neck, above my right hip and in my left leg where I had skid marks from their shoes.
After they assaulted me, I told Lieutenant Hayat “You promised that you would not use force but you just did”. She told me to thank god that they did not do worse. She took my travel bag and started throwing everything out from it on the floor. She and Dana then left the room but the two police women in uniform who were involved in the assault remained with me in the room. I was not allowed to leave the room. The room was extremely cold, I was wearing a jumper that I had brought with me from Copenhagen and I was still freezing. They offered me food and water but I told them that I was on hunger strike, which they were already aware of, so they brought me water.
I talked to some of the policewomen. One of them, Budour, was holding her finger so I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she had a scratch on it. Then they sat and they talked to me for some time and I found out that Budour went to the same high school as me. She told me about her family, about her life and the other one told me she was from Hamad Town and told me about the high school she had been to. So basically, we sat there and chatted, and I also asked them a couple of questions like “how can you assault someone that you can talk to normally” and “how are you capable of doing something like that”, and they told me that they do things based on orders because as they put it, they are “slaves to orders”. They have to do what they are told.
I stayed there for several hours, every time I requested to go to the bathroom I was not allowed until they received an order allowing me to go. At one point when it was prayer time in the morning I asked to pray and they told me I was not allowed to pray unless they receive an order to allow me to do so. They delayed my praying for approximately two hours until the order was given and I was finally allowed to pray.
At one point the room started getting a lot colder and I wore my jacket on top of my jumper and I was still freezing and I kept telling them that it was really cold but they told me there was nothing they could do about it. It got so cold that the policewomen were actually sitting outside the room rather than inside.
At around 5:30 am the policewomen were sitting busy talking to each, so I got up and walked outside. As soon as I walked outside they came to me. It was the security area where people were passing through for transit. I was standing on the side and someone who said she was in charge of airport security came to me as well as the uniformed police woman “Manoor” as they called her. They came to me and asked me to go back inside the room. I refused and said “I have been asking for a phone call since I arrived here to let my family know that I’m okay and I’ve been asking for a phone call to my lawyer to see if he has come or not because I want to see him and I’m asking for a phone call to the Danish embassy. I have not been allowed any of those things even though you promised me you would allow it. You also promised me you would not use force and you did and thus there is no reason for me to cooperate anymore.” They kept insisting. The police woman “Manoor” told me “No. Your lawyer didn’t show up. You should cooperate, why are you doing this? You’ll just make it worse for yourself” Then I told her “Everything you promised me you would do, you didn’t. And everything you promised you wouldn’t do, you did, so why should I cooperate?” So she said: “What did we promise we wouldn’t do?” and I said: “You promised you wouldn’t use force with me and then you did. You assaulted me.” She said “No. No. You assaulted us.” So I said: “How did I assault you?” She responded: “You kicked one of the police women in the stomach with your knee.” So I looked at her and said: “You know that one of my knees is injured and I can’t use it. So which knee was it that I hit her with?”
She stopped for a minute and said: “I don’t remember” So I said: “At least you would remember which side of me she was standing on. It shouldn’t be too difficult to remember”. So she said: “No, no, no I don’t remember anymore”. So I told her: “You know that what you’re saying is not true and that you’re making it up” and she told me that she did not want to talk about it anymore. I asked them if I was under arrest, and they said no.
Since my arrival, every policewoman or airport security that I interacted with when I asked them what their name was, they told me that there were superior orders not to tell me their names. The police women and security either did not have name badges on, or had them turned around so that their names were hidden.
After that, the woman who told me she was in charge of airport security promised that if I go back in the room they will allow me a phone call at 7:00 AM. So I told her I will wait will 7 am for that phone call where I was. She kept insisting, saying she was not like “those who had assaulted me” and that she was “from a different department”. I waited in the security area until almost 7:30 or 8:00 AM and I realized that they were not going to give me that phone call. I kept asking over and over again, and they kept telling me to wait for the orders to come in. So I walked towards the people passing through the transit security area and I started saying: “My name is Maryam Al Khawaja. I am a Bahraini Danish citizen. I am being held here against my will. Can someone please call the Danish embassy?” and I kept repeating that sentence over and over again. As soon as I did that there were a number of police officers who came as well as people who looked like they were police but were in civilian clothing. They started gathering in the area where I was. I saw that a few people who were coming through security tried to take pictures but anyone who tried to interact with me were stopped and were asked for their passports by the police. Anyone who so much as looked at me was shouted at and asked to move on. I heard the police talking on the phone about removing me by force so I lied down on the ground and put my hands in my pockets and I told the police woman: “Look. My hands are in my pockets. Even if you use force against me, I will not.” And I kept repeating the previous sentence over and over again. Two policewomen came and picked me up, handcuffed me behind my back and took me to the waiting room again.
I was left handcuffed for a while. I kept falling asleep and waking back up due to the discomfort of the handcuffs and the pain in my shoulder which got worse with my arms being behind my back. I lost track of time, but at one point a policewoman came in and told me “I will take the handcuffs off, but if you try to leave the room I’ll put them back on”. I stayed there for several hours. Again the room was freezing cold to an unbearable degree. Right outside the door from the waiting room where I was they put a police tape blocking the door, and they placed two chairs for policewomen to sit down on. I heard the police outside my room discussing how they had removed the phones from the other women who had been waiting and who had been moved to another area. And one of them was saying, “We always give them their phones. We always allow them to keep their phones, how are we supposed to get someone to book tickets for them if we don’t give them their phones?” The other policeman said: “ Don’t ask these questions right now. We were just told that we should take the phones away from them. These are the orders. After we finish with this case, you’ll give them their phone back.”
During this time two policewomen came into my room, went through my things and took pictures of everything, including personal pictures of my family and bank cards. I informed them that I do not consent to any of what they were doing. They then took both my bags away. I asked them that my things must stay with me, they responded that these were the orders.
At approximately 3:30pm I was finally escorted to an office near the arrival hall. I was escorted by several police officers. One of them was Dana. In the room upstairs I saw the man who was carrying the video camera, Salman Mohamad Mahmoud, and he told me that I was being charged with assaulting two female police and that he wanted to take my testimony. At first I had no idea what he was talking about and I asked him to repeat what he was saying which he did. I told him that I have a right to speak with my lawyer first to which he responded that it was not possible, so I told him I won’t speak then. I waited there for a while, after which they brought Lieutenant Hayat, Dana was there, and there were two or three other police women. Fawaz AlSameem was also there. At that point I asked Lieutenant Hayat for her name, but she refused to tell me. Fawaz AlSameem then informed me that there were two cases of electronic crimes against me and that I was being taken to the Criminal Investigation Department for interrogation.
Again they searched my bags while a different another man with a video camera recorded everything. I was handcuffed, and taken outside the airport from a side door and I was asked to get into a civilian car. I told them I did not trust them and I didn’t want to get into a civilian car, I wouldn’t mind going into a police car but I wouldn’t want to go or trust going into a civilian car. Dana and another policewoman in civilian clothing forced me into the civilian car. There were two male police with us, and one of them videotaped me the entire way.
I sat at the CID for several hours. During the period at the CID, I was not allowed to use the bathroom unless one of the policewomen stands inside the bathroom stall with me and I was not allowed to close the stall door. So I refused to go to the toilet under these conditions.
At around 7:30 or 8:00 PM I was taken to the public prosecution in a MOI minibus with several female police escorting me. When I was taken to the interrogation room, my lawyer Mohammed AlJishi was sitting behind me and I was sitting facing the prosecutor. At the beginning of the session Mohammed AlJishi asked that he speak to me alone as it is my right according to Bahrain law. The prosecutor refused his request. Then Al Jishi asked if he could at least advise me of my rights under the Bahraini law given that I live outside of Bahrain and I might not be completely aware of them, and the prosecutor again said refused the request. The interrogation started with the prosecutor telling me about the accusation of assault that has been brought against me by the two policewomen Lieutenant Hayat and the policewoman Budoor AlOnaizi (this was when I found out what their names are). And then he said there was a scratch on one of her fingers, that I had kicked Lieutenant Hayat in the stomach and hit one of them on the head. He then commenced the interrogation to which I responded to every single question with: “I refuse to respond given that I have not been allowed access to my lawyer beforehand.” At the end of the interrogation, I also refused to sign the papers from the prosecution again stating the reason being that I was not allowed access to my lawyer before the interrogation took place. After that I was taken to the waiting room again where I was allowed to speak to my lawyer for a short period when I informed him that I was going to stop the hunger strike.
I was then informed at around midnight that I was given seven days pending investigation by the public prosecution and I was taken to the Muharraq Airport police station. I was booked into the system and then I was transported to Isa Town women detention centre. By the time I arrived to the detention centre, it was about 3:00 AM.
After I was held in prison (I will not speak of the details of the prison right now, I will discuss these details at a later time but the coming points I found important to mention) I was taken to the public prosecution’s medical examiner. First, the means of transportation used to transport me during my entire stay at the detention center was different from the other women being held with me. I was always transported in a mini bus with at least two or three policewomen and one male police, usually Salman Mohammed Mahmoud whose treatment towards me was good, and one police driver. There was one riot police jeep in front of us and another behind us (sometimes two behind us). Sometimes they even put the sirens on and would not stop at any of the red lights and drove at a very high speed putting themselves and myself at risk. I was taken to a medical examiner who asked me if I had any medical problems related to the incident that had happened to the airport and I told him that I had pain in my stomach as well as pain in my shoulder and neck. He looked at my shoulder from afar and did not examine it. He then commenced to ask questions about my other injuries that I had in my knee and my hand. I told him that I wanted to speak to my lawyer to see if what I would say could have influence on the case. He refused my request so I refused to answer any of his questions. He wanted to take pictures of me which I also refused. He asked me to write down that I refuse which I did, but I refused to sign it. He responded “well we have it in your handwriting so it doesn’t matter if you sign it or not”.
Another issue that is important to mention is that I was taken to the Special Investigation Unit at the Public Prosecution where I was supposed to make a complaint about the assault that I was subjected to by the police. Mohammed Hazza was the person who took my testimony. He gave me very leading questions. While I was telling him my testimony he did not write anything, he just listened, and then he resaid everything that I had said to the person writing down the testimony in his own words. At one point he asked me if I had been assaulted in Arabic and I got a little confused given the terminology because I was translating it to English. So I asked him “What do you mean by “إعتداء”?
Do you mean beating like kicking and punching? Because that did not happen. But if you mean assault then yes I was assaulted.” So he wrote in the paper work that I was not assaulted. The way he framed what I had said was that the police had merely used the necessary force to take my phone from me because I was refusing to give it to them. So I told him that was not what I had said and I wanted him to write what I had said instead of what he was changing my words to sound like. He refused. It took three or four time of my lawyer and I leaving his office to a waiting area and then coming back in order for him to change a few things in the testimony. Despite that he refused to change the main misquotations that would basically not indict the police women and would serve as a testimony against myself, framing me as uncooperative and the policewomen as just doing their job. The lawyer and I told him several times that he should write what I actually said since it was my testimony but he refused. At one point he got angry and told the lawyer that he should not speak. To which the lawyer responded that as per Bahraini law he has the right to advise me during the testimony session. The whole debacle ended with me refusing to sign the papers of the testimony given the misquotations. What’s interesting is that although I am a Human Rights Defender who knows the law and the rules, I was treated this way by the Special Investigation Unit who are supposed to be impartial. It was obvious that he was trying to frame my testimony in a way that would not only acquit the policewomen from my complaint of assault, but also would serve as evidence against me.
Another important note is that during the period of my imprisonment both my lawyer and embassy requested visits. Both visits did not happen. During the first visit with my family, I was the only prisoner in that prison who was taken to a room with a large marble table which prevented any kind of physical contact with them or hug them. It was only after I complained told the prison administration that this act was personal targeting because of my human rights work that they changed my visiting to the regular visitation room that all other regular prisoners or detainees are taken to.