9-7-2012By Jihan Kazerooni
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
My name is Jihan Kazerooni and I am a human rights defender. This is my story.
What I saw on March 13, 2011 changed my life forever.
At the time, I didn’t know that in my country of Bahrain we have a repressive regime and that there are poor people suffering in the villages. Whenever I heard negative comments about the Royal Family, I defended them, saying, “Yes, we do need reforms as any other country but our Royal family are good and they are not as bad as Saddam or Qaddafi.” In other words I was a government supporter.
On February 17, 2011, I heard that the government had attacked protestors at the Pearl Roundabout. Two of them died. Due to the fact that most of my family and friends are pro-government, I believed that all the protestors at the Pearl Roundabout were liars, that the two who were killed had weapons, and that they stole blood bags from the hospital to pour over themselves. I kind of believed that the protestors were the ones exaggerating.
But then, on March 13th, when the government was attacking protestors again at the Pearl Roundabout, I knew I needed to go and find out the truth by myself rather than hearing it through word of mouth and on Bahrain TV. When I arrived, I was shocked. Armed police were brutally attacking unarmed people. I saw civilian cars carrying bodies. They had to resort to civilian cars because the number of ambulances weren’t enough to serve that many injured protesters.
I spent two hours standing there alone, watching and crying.
After I left I went straight to Salmaniya hospital to find out what happened to the injured protesters. What I saw was that the doctors were working so hard to save lives. They were treating the protestors in the parking lot because there weren’t enough beds in the hospital.
I came home after a long and shocking day. I couldn’t sleep for 3 nights. The scene of all the people screaming and crying, the injured people and blood kept flashing before my eyes whenever I closed them.
Just when I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, we heard that Saudi troops had come to Bahrain. They not only attacked protestors but demolished the Pearl Roundabout itself, because the government said that it created a bad memory in our country’s history.
On March 15, 2011 the government announced a national security policy and started arresting every person who had participated in the protests, rallies, and even the martyr’s funerals. They arrested and tortured thousands of people including young and old, women and children as young as 11 years old. They even targeted the doctors who participated in treating the protesters.
Every night after 12:00 am we felt that we were re-living scenes out of a scary movie waiting for our turn to be arrested. They were going to certain Shia villages with a list of names raiding houses and arresting people who then disappeared for months.
I started thinking that I had to do something for these people so I visited Mr. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and offered my help. From there I started my humanitarian journey. I joined BCHR and began documenting human rights violations. I became involved with the medics who had been arrested. This is when we collaborated with a few doctors to establish a new organization, the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-violence Organization (BRAVO), which concentrates on rehabilitating torture victims.
It has been more than a year since I joined the human rights field. I have witnessed more than 100 people being killed, hundreds arrested, and thousands dismissed from their jobs. It is so hard to imagine that these violations would happen in such a small island like Bahrain with a population no larger than 700,000 people! To break this down for you, we are talking about each Shia Family in Bahrain being affected by these attacks.
Being a human rights defender is a crime in my country. They might raid my home and arrest me at any moment, but this won’t stop me from helping my people. I will continue to work as an activist even if I have to pay for it with my life.