By Roy Gutman
Wednesday 25 May 2011
BAGHDAD -- After severely curbing news coverage of its crackdown on opposition groups by foreign reporters, Bahraini authorities have begun an assault on local journalists working for international news agencies - with arrests, beatings and, apparently in one instance, electric shock.
Two well-known reporters were arrested Sunday and beaten - Nazeeha Saeed, who reports for the Arabic language service of France24, an all news French television channel, and Mazen Mahdi, who reports for the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur and the U.S. publication Defense News.
Saeed was held until 2 a.m. Monday, and, according to human rights activists in Bahrain, subjected to electric shock. On Monday, the French Embassy lodged a complaint with the Bahrain government, which subsequently announced it had launched an investigation into the alleged abuse, activists said.
McClatchy Newspapers is withholding the names of its sources in Bahrain to protect them from retribution.
Reached by McClatchy in Paris, where she was flown by France24, Saeed said she would have "no comment on the shocks" or her arrest, pending a court case against the Bahrain police who abused her.
Mahdi was held for hours of questioning and physically abused as well. "They blindfolded, cuffed and then beat me," the Financial Times quoted Mahdi as saying. "They were claiming I 'published lies' that harmed the country's image." Mahdi did not respond to McClatchy Newspapers' request for comment.
The assaults on local reporters appears to be another step in Bahrain's harsh crackdown on dissent that began in mid-March after Saudi Arabia dispatched troops to the island nation to halt a month-long national protest.
Besides ousting the editors of the only independent daily newspaper, Al Wasat, the authorities have arrested local reporters and photographers and expelled the only resident foreign reporter, who worked for the Reuters news agency. Most foreign news reporters, including this one, have been prevented from entering Bahrain.
There's also been an increase in what appear to be efforts to intimidate would-be critics of the monarchy that rules Bahrain, a close U.S. ally and the home base for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The intimidation campaign appears to be focused on teachers, who report that as many as 30 elementary and secondary school teachers are taken from their classrooms at a time and driven to police stations, where they are subjected to hours of verbal and physical abuse before being released.
Those seized Monday included the wives of a former member of parliament, Jalal Fairooz, who himself has been jailed since early May, and of Haider Mohamed al-Noaimi, a 26-year-old columnist for Al Wasat, who was released Sunday after a month in detention.
The teachers were made to stand for hours facing a wall, then ordered to sit and stand in rapid succession, sometimes with black hoods on their heads, stripped of their abayas or black gowns, and subject to verbal insults by their captors.
One teacher, who could not be named for fear of government recriminations, reported that a school bus traveled from school to school picking up teachers who had been selected for the police scolding.
On the bus, the teachers were told to sing the Bahraini national anthem and swear their allegiance to King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, the country's monarch. At the station, they are photographed, then subjected to a bizarre interrogation, the main question being how many times they had gone to the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain's capital, which was the central gathering point for anti-government demonstrations during February and March.
"They called me a donkey, a cow, a liar. They said I am fat. I am an embarrassment," said one teacher.
Most of the teachers were beaten over the head, and had to give up their cell phones and laptop computers, the teacher said. "The whole thing was laughable," the teacher said, "except that I had all my curriculum plans and grades for my pupils on my computer. I need that back."