7-20-2011By Stephanie El Rayess
Human Rights Defenders
In addition to opposition members, human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, students and athletes, the Bahraini government is cracking down on its teachers. Teachers like Jalila al-Salman who was arrested in March for her alleged role in coordinating a teachers’ strike following the February and March protests that called for government reform. Over 40 security officers raided Jalila’s home in late March and arrested her in front of her three children. Jalila is still locked up, and her family claims she has been tortured. She may get her day in court, though no exact word on when.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights raised alarm of the government’s violent crackdown on the Bahraini Teacher’s Association (BTA) and the country’s teachers in a recently released report. According to their findings, many have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, military prosecution, torture, suspensions, salary cuts, and investigations due to their support of the peaceful demonstrations. Education International, a global federation of teacher unions, also condemned the Bahrain’s Ministry of Social Development’s decision to dissolve the BTA and to prosecute its leaders in military courts, calling it a “serious assault on teachers’ rights.”
Jalila has devoted her life to education. Her colleagues describe her sincerity, work ethic, and passion for teaching students and helping faculty over her 25 year career as an educator. Because of her years’ long struggle to improve teaching conditions in Bahrain, she faced numerous threats and was passed over for promotion. In addition to her work at Saba Secondary School, Jalila was the Vice-President of the BTA, which was formed as a substitute to the teachers’ union after the government’s 2003 ban on all unions in the public sector.
Jalila was reportedly severely tortured during her first few weeks of detention and is still being mistreated. Released detainees had previously described to Human Rights First a common pattern of ill-treatment and humiliation at Bahraini prisons, including verbal abuse, long periods of blindfolding (sometimes for several days), being beaten while handcuffed, being forced to sign documents which they were not even permitted to see, and being made to chant pro-government slogans. According to some who served time with Jalila, the 46 year-old mother of three, she has been a source of inspiration and comfort to her fellow detainees. One of these women is Ayat Hassan Mohammad al-Ghermezi, the 20-year-old poet and student who was released last week after being detained for reciting a poem that criticized the government. She too was tortured while in prison, which she described in a recent interview with The Independent newspaper.
Jalila and her colleagues are facing charges of “calling for and inciting the overthrow and hatred of the ruling system, possessing anti-political system pamphlets, spreading malicious and fabricated news and taking part in illegal gatherings,” the Bahrain News Agency reported. Jalila’s defense attorneys presented evidence and five witness statements from teachers and headmasters showing that she had no interest in politics or taking part in a political rally, which the Bahraini regime wrongly classifies as ‘crimes’. Like Jalila, the other accused teachers plead not guilty. Yet, the Military Prosecution claimed, “The suspects’ statements, investigations and technical information are enough to blame them.” Human Rights First has received information that Jalila’s case was transferred out of the military courts and that the trial is not likely to take place before September 15th.
In a recently released report, Human Rights First documented how the Bahraini government continues to intimidate, torture, and detain human rights defenders, citing eyewitness accounts and testimonies of injured detainees being tortured on their wounds, sexual abuse, and attacks at medical facilities. The release of some activists like Ayat al-Ghermezi is a relief, but much more needs to be done to rebuild the trust of the Bahraini people. Immediately releasing detained students and teachers and investigating the reports of torture and human rights violations during detention are necessary steps in this regard.