Jalila al-Salman

18th January 2013 at 00:00
The vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association, whose case has been highlighted by Amnesty International, talks about what happened after she was arrested for her part in Bahrain's 2011 uprising. Interview by Henry Hepburn

What happened to you on 29 March 2011?

On 28 March, I told my principal I was not coming in the next day - I had a feeling I would be arrested. At 1.30am, I was wakened by a hand pulling at my neck. When I opened my eyes, I saw a masked man pressing tightly on my neck, pointing a gun at my head. My small bedroom was full of men - more than 50 of the security forces, with different weapons and uniforms. My husband was surrounded by five of them.

I asked to change from my nightclothes, but they refused. They were searching everywhere. Documents were torn and thrown. They dragged me past my kids, insulting, slapping, humiliating and pushing me. When I got downstairs, doors were broken. Everything was upside down.

More than 15 cars, buses and Jeeps were parked at my front door. They pushed me on to a bus. They started cursing, insulting me with the ugliest words I had ever heard.

I was kept in solitary confinement for 10 days, tortured daily. I was prevented from using the toilet, drinking, praying, taking my medicine, sleeping, eating. There were threats of rape and I was forced to stand facing the wall most of the time. Beating would start in the middle of the night. Sometimes when they offered food it was full of sand and hair. They forced me to sign confessions, without my knowing what was in them. They sent me to the ladies' detention centre in Isa Town, where they kept me for eight days in solitary confinement in a freezing cell. They filmed my "confessions", as they threatened me with beatings and rape.

Did you have any contact with your three children or other family members?

I did not have any contact with the outside world most of the time. The first time I saw my three kids was at the first session of my military trial - for 10 minutes, under supervision. That was after nearly four months of detention. There was no access to my lawyer - it was forbidden.

What happened at your trial?

I went through two types of trial - military and civilian - but couldn't see any difference. On the first day of the military trial I didn't know I was being taken to court. During the trial session, I was pleased to see Mahdi Abu Deeb, the BTA president, alive. We were both astonished when the military judge read 12 charges against us - they were completely fake. The lawyers asked to see us and they were given 10 minutes - this was all we got through all the military trial. On that day, I saw the signs of torture on Mahdi's arms and legs. We were not allowed to speak a word. The judge did not even allow our lawyers to say what they wanted, and refused to hear from our defence witnesses. After mock trials, they announced three years in jail for me, and 10 for Mahdi. In the civil court, the final verdicts came: six months for me and five years for Mahdi. I was released on bail - although I have been arrested twice more, most recently in October 2012 - but my colleague hasn't been out since April 2011.

What happened to the Bahrain Teachers' Association?

BTA was dissolved by the ministers of development and education on the same day Mahdi was brutally arrested. We are gaining international recognition, but officially there is no body that represents teachers in Bahrain.

What is your current situation?

I am still without a job, and awaiting the verdict of the court of cassation (the highest appeal court). I was last paid in February 2011. I couldn't pay my debts, so I am facing another court for this. I am defending my colleagues as they face harmful violations.

What motivates you to keep campaigning, despite what has happened to you and other teachers in Bahrain?

If you saw the injustice, you would not stand and watch. Teachers are still in prison for nothing. Students of ours have been in jail for long periods. Even young kids are in prison.

What is it like to live in Bahrain now?

Bahrain is not safe at all. You can be attacked in your home for doing nothing. You can be punished on a daily basis. You have to face humiliation at checkpoints just because you are from a particular sect, because you are Shiite. You can be shot for exercising your rights to freedom of expression or gathering.

Are you against international events such as Formula 1 motor racing taking place in Bahrain?

Yes. That is international validation for the government, which allows them to do more against our people. The people of Bahrain are not benefiting from that race.

Is there anything Scottish teachers can do to help teachers in Bahrain?

They can put more pressure through their government or parliament on Bahraini authorities to stop ongoing violations against teachers and hold to account the perpetrators - and put pressure on the Unesco award for e- learning (funded by Bahrain) as a punishment for what the minister of education is doing to education.

What is your biggest hope for the future?

To see my country as a model of democracy and human rights. My people did not lose their warm and welcoming smiles, but I want to see those coming from their hearts. And to be able to say to any person in charge that his policy is wrong, with no fear of what might happen next.


Born: Manama, Bahrain, 1965

Education: Manama Girls Secondary School; University of Bahrain College of Engineering

Career: Computer science teacher since 1987. Became senior teacher in 2003 and assistant school principal in 2008. Vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association.

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