Bahrain mirror (Execlusive):
In the streets of Manama, in the middle of the suffocating teargas, at the dilemma of escaping that gas and the urge to continue chanting and protesting, the girls came closer to each other near the Ministry of Interior (known as the Fortress) roundabout, a crazy idea popped up, yet was so clear for all of them; one of the girls said: “How do you feel about going to Formula 1?"
They whispered: "Yes we are a few girls, but our presence in Manama has a different impact. Protests in the villages are no longer enough, this government insists on putting down any type of protest at any critical places in the country, trying to curb these protests and confine them within the villages only.”
Protests continued in Manama. Their impact was big. They demanded Al-Khawaja’s release and their number grew. They gathered and were dispersed by the mercenaries, then gathered again and so on. “We didn’t carry a Molotov cocktail, nor a stone, only banners and chants were enough. They were enough to confuse them and make us stronger” One of them said.
They organized a sit-in in front of the American Embassy many times, a sit-in at the center of Manama (Bab Al Bahrain), a sit-in near the monument of Bahrain map in Tubli, and now they decided to break into Formula 1 ‘fortress’! They knew that they would certainly be faced with repression as it was the case every time and everywhere, Formula 1 was no exception at all, "We knew that there is no escape from detention when we practiced our right in protesting peacefully at the Formula 1, as the regime wouldn’t be able to handle us in public."Through the checkpoints
Sunday 22nd April 2012, the F1 race day at Sukhair, the girls hid folded banners and their death shrouds underneath their clothes, perhaps the most difficult moment was that at the entry, they decided to split into two groups to avoid arousing suspicion. They were asked to stop at a checkpoint; their handbags were put on the devices, opened for inspection, then they were asked to pass through a metal barrier, and finally inspected using a hand-held scanner. The two groups went through safely. The first group reached the platform first.
Close to the platform, the second group was surprised by a second checkpoint for further inspection. The police asked them to stop for inspection although green labels were put on their wrists as indication that they had already been inspected. Eman, one of the girls, wrote on Twitter: "My friends Ramla and Mona passed safely, I thought I and Zainab had safely passed through too, but one of the policewomen told us to enter into a room that was mainly prepared for personal inspection! Zainab got rid of the shroud very quickly, but I could not. While in the room, I felt real fear that the policewomen would discover everything before we achieved our mission. A policewoman started to inspect Zainab. Meanwhile I tried to hide the shroud, but it fell between my legs. The policewoman could easily have seen it, had she looked at the floor, then we would’ve been detained, tortured and beaten without anyone knowing about us. I pulled the shroud quietly from the ground and put it between my legs. It was my turn to be inspected, the policewoman touched every part of my body! Moments passed like hours, I could not believe it when she said: Please proceed!"Through the Procession of Nasser the King’s Son
At that time, the first group, comprising Masooma Al-Sayed, Ramla Abbas, Mona Ali, Sara Al-Kharaz and Zahra Abdul-Nabi were breaking through the procession of the son of the King, Sheikh Nasser, who is known for his arrogance and tyranny.
Masooma stood bravely in front of Nasser’s procession, wearing her death shroud lifting a picture of one the martyrs and a banner written on it, in English, “This is your government, you kill people”.
With a loud and strong voice, Masooma shouted “Nasser”; he turned in amazement, while she continued by saying “You are killers”.
Masooma could not finish off her sentence, as suddenly she was attacked from everywhere, and arrested immediately. She resisted, then the guards attacked her brutally, tearing the shroud she wore and her shirt as well, "They told me while they were tearing my clothes - this is Sheikh Nasser, Your Boss! And all at once abusing me verbally and dragged me” Masooma wrote on Twitter. Mona tried to cover Masooma’s body, however, she was pulled by a civilian man." We felt their nails dig into our skin. They dragged us to the security office." She added.
Everything went in an unplanned and dramatic way, some Western journalists pointed out to what was happening, and started taking pictures, the Special Forces became crazy and were confused, as that was totally unexpected – no one dared to chant or enter that heavily guarded place with that meticulous inspection. The first group was dragged to a hidden place under the stairs, and was beaten, they treated them in a degrading and humiliating way. Massoma said "They took Mona and me to the Security Office, and we were severely beaten and slapped on the face. The other girls were arrested. They suffered badly and painfully."Through F1 Audience
The second group was trying to reach the platform. Eman said "We came out of the inspection and joined the rest of the group, Masooma and her group disappeared. We met Zainab Laith, together with Zainab, we began to feel security alert, we thought that the first group had been arrested, thus we immediately put on the shrouds and lifted up the banners. "
Eman and Zainab Laith got into the crowd, an informer noticed that while the other Zainab was standing closely and taking pictures from her mobile. “We were six girls, three of us survived the arrest”. Eman was running among the crowd while Zainab was holding a banner that read: F1 IS A JUST A MASK TO HIDE THEIR CRIMES.
Eman said: "I no longer knew what happened to the rest of the girls. Once I put on the shroud with a printed picture of the martyr Salah Abbas(1) on it and a few words saying HE [HAS BEEN] JUST KILLED, a civilian looked at me and began shouting to the riot women troops:" What are you waiting for! Go and get her”. The policewomen were standing in a shock in front of me, it was a golden opportunity to raise the banner I had, which read “FREE OUR LEADERS”.
The policewomen got angry and started following me. One of them grabbed me strongly, but I managed to escape. Voices around were heard: "Catch her! Beat her" I started running and at the same time lifting the banner. I was, then surrounded from every side. One of the policewomen brutally tore the shroud, and the other one put down the banner. They grabbed me with a great force that I could not even breathe. "
Eman was surrounded by a number of the Special Forces members, they twisted her arm violently, dragged her to the Security Centre, while one of them dragged Zainab from her hair, who shouted with full strength: they are killing us, do not keep [silent], Free Al- Khawaja. "
Zainab was screaming while she was being slapped on the face and mouth, policewomen tried to silence her. Pulled her scarf and continued hitting her on the head until they reached a shaded and closed corridor where they beat her severely. The other Zainab was arrested too as they noticed her taking pictures.At the F1 Security Center
All the girls met, and found themselves lying on the ground, in a room full of the Special Forces members. They were trying to hide the matter away from the press by standing in front of the windows in one line.
One of the girls said "I turned so angry, and with full courage looked into my wounded, swollen and reddish hands, I raised them and screamed at the guards and said: do you think you are humans? We do not have any personal issue with you. Is it the “Land of Law” you keep talking about? Tell me have we done anything to you? Think about it? We only had banners, why were you afraid of them? You have the weapons not us, how come you are afraid of the press and not of God? You have torn the clothes of my friend without shame?” I added. Some of the faces of the policewomen changed and eyes started to tear, then the officer in charge – Mai Jamal – shouted : Shut up. She pushed me harshly towards the wall, another one said: if you don’t like the government, just leave.
I told them: “I was born in this land and I will die in it too, I hit the ground with my fist strongly and the rest of the girls started hitting the floor and chant." Argument flared between us and them. They were abusing us verbally in an awful sectarian way; insulting and made jokes of us and on our beliefs. We, however, responded and fought back as it was no longer possible for us to keep silent.”
“They kept us inside a very small room away from the eyes of the journalists. We heard some voices outside; so we took the opportunity and chanted loudly "Down, Down [with] Hamad(2)". The policewomen dismissed the press and closed the door immediately. Then our voices were blurred among the noise of the music. That noise shook my heart as I thought of Salah, the martyr. We lifted the banner with a printed picture of Salah and a few words saying “THEY KILLED SALAH YESTERDAY".Who is Salah?
The lady police officer Mariam asked them: “Who is Salah?” “Is it possible that she does not know who Salah was?!!” I was wondering. The girls started telling his story, about his five children and his wife who was expecting a new baby soon. Those children who would carry a heavy legacy: the legacy of the salty land.
One of the girls said: “When they took us in two groups outside F1 circuit, I was thinking all the way in the coming days whether I would be inside or outside jail, if in jail I would try my best to get a pen and a piece of paper to write, if I would be outside then I would not stop protesting no matter of any charges of ‘Illegal Gathering’ that were freely dealt out".At Riffa police station
The girls were taken to East Riffa Police Station. It was almost eight thirty in the evening t. The atmosphere was somehow calm after the noise of Formula 1. "Some policewomen treated us gently, and I knew from some of them that we might be freed after the investigation. We prayed and we were given some snacks. We heard the sound of fireworks coming from outside. We thought there was a protest for us, but it was Riffa, they were protesting against us”
At mid-night, Masooma’s mobile was given back to her in preparation for her release. The families of the detainees were outside the Police Station. Masooma took some pictures and published them on Twitter. Minutes and a policewoman came in and was extremely angry. Everything turned in chaos again, they confiscated Massoma’s mobile again, beat her and dragged her to a separate room away from the others.
At two o’clock in the morning, it was clear that the arrest of the girls caused a total confusion to Formula 1, and keeping them detained would certainly further embarrass the government. The girls were released after interrogation and recording the minutes. Masooma was allowed to leave as well, however, she refused to go out the police station without her mobile. Masooma’s family was called to convince her, they arrived and Masooma left because of her mother’s health condition.On our way, back home
One of the girls said: “On our way back home, I passed along my car in Formula 1 parking space, the building was tall, yet looked ugly. I had not seen it like that before. Even the way to my house incited me to protest again and again, we deserve freedom; this country deserves to live and die for. "
(1) Salah Abbas, was killed by riot police a day before the F1 race at Bahrain.
(2) Refers to King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa.