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June 11, 2012

Salah Alshayeb: One of the Overlooked Victims of Bahrain's Revolution

Salah AlshayebMost international attention on the Bahrain crackdown on human rights has focused on a relatively small number of cases – the prominent dissidents jailed for long terms, those tortured to death in custody, the medics targeted for treating injured protestors.

Thousands more have been largely ignored by the media – those who were arrested, mistreated and then released without charge, or those who were dismissed from their jobs for perceived association with the pro-democracy protests.

One such example is Salah Alshayeb is 40, who until last year was a Senior Captain for Gulf Air. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a government-appointed commission into the crackdown early last year, reported that 91 employees of Gulf Air had been dismissed. He was detained by the police, sacked by the company and now cannot find work.  He told Human Rights First his story below:

On April 13, 2011, I was summoned to come to the Gulf Air office the next day without being given a reason.When the meeting started, they first asked me, “Do you know why you're here?” I said that I did not know, but from what I understood it was about the latest events in Bahrain. They said “yes,” then continued: “You know that government has pumped millions of dinars recently into the company, and you go out calling for the fall of the regime!”

The atmosphere was tense, and I didn’t know exactly what would happen next. They kept asking me, “Have you participated in the recent Demonstrations? Have you chanted?” At first I denied because I was afraid. And then one of them said “Bring out the Picture!” It was me walking in a peaceful demonstration, with a circle drawn around my face. They told me it came from the Ministry of Interior.

 I couldn’t deny my participation, but argued that I was practicing my constitutional right. Afterwards, I was grounded for five days initially, but three days later I was asked to collect my termination letter without any compensation or end of service standard benefits.

 On May 7, three masked and armed civilians sneaked into my house. I watched as one of them jumped over the wall and opened the garage for the others. I went down to wake up my wife and told her, “They are here and I have to go.”

They took my mobiles and few laptops and searched the house before taking me blindfolded to a place two stories underground. I still remember the fear, fatigue and uncertainty of that day. Interrogators came downstairs every now and then, insulting the detainees and threatening them. Some were forced to imitate the voices of animals, and others were forced to curse the opposition leaders. They beat me not to really hurt me, but to humiliate me. They told me they could electrocute me, could bring my wife to see me being humiliated.

After the first week, things got better, and I was “upgraded” to solitary confinement after spending the week blindfolded in the detention corridor. About a month later I had my first phone call and later on  my family were able to come and see me, followed by weekly visits, but under surveillance and on condition of not to speak about my case. Throughout the whole time I had no access to a lawyer.”

The officer in charge was a real nightmare to everyone: some called him “The Monster” - he came in on a daily basis, passing by the prison cells, kicking the doors and beating the detainees badly. In the last week of July, I was taken back to the National Security Agency for interrogation. The interrogator told me that if I promised to cooperate I wouldn’t be exposed to any torture. They made sign a paper while I was blindfolded, and told me not to write anything but my name and signature. Clearly, they just wanted to cover themselves legally, especially since the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry at that time was running an audit on detainees’ cases.

On August 1, I was released. Following my release I have tried to regain my normal life and work again, but Gulf Air came up with reasons why they won't take me back. One of them was my absence during my detention, even though I was given my termination letter about two weeks before my arrest. Another reason was "security reservation awaiting clearance from NSA," even though there was no real case against me, and I have managed to obtain a Certificate of No Criminal Record since my release.

 I have decided to leave my homeland and look for a job somewhere else, as I don’t stand any chance of working in Bahrain due to suspicions that I have participated in or supported the pro-democracy movement. To get a job elsewhere I have to have flown recently, at least within the last year. But because I haven’t been able to fly for more than a year, I can’t find a job.