An Update With A Woman Caught In The Middle Of Bahrain's Crackdown

Aug 11, 2011
Originally published on August 11, 2011 3:25 pm

On today's All Things Considered NPR's Kelly McEvers brings us an update on a story she reported in May. The story was about how the Bahraini government had started targeting women in effort to quell a rebellion that raged in the country since February.

Kelly reported on one women who agreed to be interviewed by NPR only if she could whisper and talk in English so the government could not track her down.

"They took me from my work," she said. "And from the beginning, they slapped me on my face, on my head, shoulder."

"She had been detained, beaten, then let go," Kelly reported. "When she met with NPR, she was limping from pain."

Today, Kelly revealed that the woman in that story was the wife of Jawad Fairooz, a politician who was part of the opposition in Bahrain. The reason Fairooz's wife did not want to be identified in the original story is because her husband was in state custody at the time.

But, earlier this week, Fairooz along with Matar Matar, another MP, were released.

Fairooz's wife told Kelly the reason the government took her was to put pressure on her husband to confess and to get her to admit that that they were having secret meetings at their house and using special equipment to broadcast news out of the country. None of them confessed because it wasn't true.

Kelly said the family told her they had no plans to leave Bahrain or stop opposing the government. Matar told the BBC, that during their time in jail, they were "tortured" and "beaten."

But Kelly said the men's release sheds light on the issues in Bahrain. Kelly said the men were released for no reason; randomly one day a man came into their cells and told them they were free to go.

"Opposition figures are also saying the arbitrary nature of this release... is kind of a reflection of the larger problem in Bahrain, that you can sort of arbitrarily be taken away and released at the whim of the state," said Kelly. "This is the reason people came out in the first place."

The protesters came out demanding a more democratic system, a system, said Kelly, based on rule of law.

Much more from Kelly's conversation with Michele Norris on tonight's All Things Considered. Tune into your local member station or we'll add the as-aired version of the interview, here, later today.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. All this year, we've been covering unrest in the Arab world. We have updates now about what's happened to several of the most compelling people from our stories. And first to Bahrain. In late May, we brought you the chilling story of a woman who was detained and beaten and accused of opposing the government. It was all the more chilling because she spoke in a whisper, so authorities would not recognize her voice and punish her for talking to the media.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They took me from my work. And from the beginning they slapped me on my face, on my head, shoulder.

NORRIS: This woman's detention was part of a crackdown against mass protests in Bahrain, and NPR's Kelly McEvers recently returned to Bahrain and found out more details of her story. And Kelly joins us now. Kelly, tell us more about this woman.

KELLY MCEVERS: This woman is actually the wife of a man named Jawad Fairooz. He is an elected member of parliament in Bahrain. He's also part of the opposition. He was an outspoken critic of the government. He took part in the uprisings back in February and March, but he was also seen as a moderate voice of opposition in the country.

Back in May, when the crackdown was really underway, masked armed men showed up at this man's house and broke the door down and took him away - wouldn't even let him take a change of clothes. And he was gone for a month. The family didn't hear anything from him for a month. At the time we aired this story, he was still in detention and the wife had also been detained and she was afraid that if we'd broadcast the details of the story that he would somehow be harmed in detention.

NORRIS: Why was she also detained and beaten and told that she would have to confess to things that she said weren't true?

MCEVERS: This appears to be a pattern with the family members of other key opposition figures during the crackdown. Apparently, what authorities were doing was using the women in particular, because this is particularly insulting to an Arab man, and using them as a way as to sort of get to her husband. You know, say to her husband, you know, we've got your wife in detention, you know, and now you should confess. They also wanted to get her to confess to things that he might have been doing. They wanted her to confess that they were holding secret meetings in their house and that they had special equipment to broadcast this information out to other countries in the region. Neither one of them ever confessed to any of these things because it just wasn't true. The good news is that Jawad Fairooz has recently been released and that's why we can now reveal all the details of this story.

NORRIS: Has the government said anything about these detentions, these beatings?

MCEVERS: There hasn't been response to specific cases. What the government has done is invited in an international legal scholar to run investigations of the wrongdoing. And what the government has been telling this scholar and this commission that he's brought with him is that, you know, yes, there might have been some wrongdoing at the low levels, you know, an errant police officer here and there. But, of course, this abuse wasn't systematic. Opposition figures say that's impossible, you know, when you've got thousands of people who were detained and accused and treated in exactly the same way across the system.

NORRIS: So, Kelly, what might happen to the family now? Will they stay there in Bahrain?

MCEVERS: Well, at the moment, yes. They say they will. Jawad Fairooz says he will remain part of the opposition. Most of the members of Parliament, like himself, did resign back during the uprising after authorities killed a number of protestors. He says that he will continue, though, to work to document the abuses that occurred during the crackdown. And for his wife, the whispering woman, she had worked as a teacher before all this happened. She's now afraid that she'll lose her job, like the thousands of other public and private sector workers did, those who were accused of opposing the government.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers. Kelly, thank you very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.