Teachers ordeal in Bahrain: arrested, tortured, sacked, suspended and prosecuted
11 July 2011
Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its grave concern over the violent crackdown on Teachers and The Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) who have played a significant role in the February 14 uprising as they stood in solidarity with the people’s demands, calling for strikes in protest to the brutal attacks on the peaceful protesters in Feb 2011 and to pressure the government to respect human rights and meet the people’s demands. Their strong role in support of the uprising led to a crackdown where both teachers and teachers’ unionists became subjected to arbitrary arrests, military prosecution, torture, suspensions, salary cuts, and investigation.
Crackdown on the Bahrain Society of Teachers
The Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) was formed as a substitute for a teachers union, where the Civil Service Bureau Act 1 in 2003 banned the establishment of unions in the governmental sector. Therefore it restricted teachers, who form the biggest division in the governmental sector, from forming their own union .
After the brutal response of the government of Bahrain to the peaceful protests of Feb14 and the attacks on the unarmed pro-democracy protesters in the Pearl Roundabout on the 17th February and in Bahrain's streets, which reached the extent of the descent of the army into the streets and killing the protesters, which resulted into 7 deaths and hundreds of injuries, BTA called the teachers for a strike from February 20th to pressure the government to respect human rights and meet the people’s demands. More than 5000 teachers went on strike outside of schools; they demanded political reforms and investigation into the deaths of peaceful protesters . The strike was called off 23rd Feb after the army withdrew from the streets and the crown prince of Bahrain guaranteed the safety of protesters at the pearl roundabout.
On 10 March, clashes between pro-democracy and pro-government girls were reported from Saar Secondary School for girls that led to some students’ parents entering the school and physically assaulting students , similar incident happened in Yathreb Intermediate School for girls which was handled by the administration of the school, however, after broadcasting false news of severe clashes on Bahrain Radio, parents arrived fearing the safety of their children which caused panic and horror among students and ambulance was called for two students who have fainted. In Al Hoora secondary School, students complained to the principle of the school verbal assaulted they were subjected to by some teachers after the crackdown on Lulu roundabout, but no actions was taken so they staged a sit-in in front of the principle office, school administration threatened them to call the police. In other schools, attendance was low because of fear and due to the lack of security in several schools, a school even reported vandalizing school property . On 13 March 2011 the ministry of education announced in a statement the temporarily closure of any school where students clashes occur . That included Saar Secondary School for girls
Therefore, the second strike was declared on March 14th till the 23rd to raise teachers’ concerns for their own physical security as well as that of students after thugs accompanied by security forces attacked numerous schools and universities in Bahrain . However, after the declaration of National Saftey Status on 15 March 2011 the government met the teachers’ demands and participation in protests and strikes with a hostile reaction which was the start of a series of arrests, suspensions, and cuts in salaries .
On March 20th, the house of the President of BTA, Mahdi Abu Deeb, was raided by security forces in the middle of the night. They did not find him home but his wife and children were interrogated for two hours. Arrests escalated on the 29th of March when the Vice President, Ms. Jaleela Al-Salman, was arrested from her home. The next day more arrests followed, among them members of the Board of the Directors in the BTA:
• Ms. Sana Abdul Razzaq, General Secretary • Mr. Salah AlBari, Financial Secretary • Ms. Afrah AlAsfour, Administrative Member • Mr. Ahmed al-Aneisi, Management Member • Mr. Falah Rabih, Management Member
On April 6th, security forces arrested Mahdi Abu Deeb. They were all held incommunicado for weeks with no access to family or lawyer. Some of them were released after a month of detention (Afrah and Sana) while others like Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jaleela Al-Salman are still detained.
On April 7th, the Ministry of Social Development dissolved the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, falsely accusing the union of “issuing statements and speeches inciting teachers and students” and “calling for a strike at schools, disrupting educational establishments, in addition to manipulation school students”. The statement also blamed BTS President, Mahdi Abu Deeb (49 years), of having “delivered speeches haranguing and instigated protestors and inciting them against the political regime, flouting the real voluntary and lofty goals of the association.” The government’s accusation of teachers politicizing education was made to delegitimize and slander the teachers’ strikes, in order to justify the campaign of arrests and suspensions that followed the declaration of a state of emergency on March 15.
On June 6, both the President of BTS, Mahdi Abu Deeb, and his Vice president, Jaleela Al Salman, were tried before the military court with unwarranted accusations of “inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlet, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal gatherings.”
Crackdown on Teachers
Arrests from Schools/ Home raids/ Summoned to police stations
Not only were members of the Teachers’ Union targeted but teachers themselves as well, being subjected to severe abuse and torture by the brutal Bahraini regime. 66 cases of teachers’ arrests have been reported to the BCHR, although the number is believed to be higher. Female teachers have been highly targeted as almost 74% of the cases reported were cases of women arrested. At least 15 Girls’ schools have also been repeatedly targeted by riot police, where both teachers and students were subjected to arbitrary arrests from the school campus and taken to police stations where they were physically abused .
On April 11 2011, 3 teachers from Al Busaiteen Elementary School were called to the principal’s office while teaching in class, to then be escorted by 3 policemen in civilian clothes to the police station, where they were interrogated from 11am to 1.30pm. 3 more teachers were taken in the following day, where they were interrogated and insulted while blindfolded. 9 other teachers were called on 20 May 2011, to be present for investigation in Al Muharraq police station from 11am to 4pm before being released.
3 police jeeps went to Al Dair Elementary School On 12 April 2011, to arrest Zahraa Al Hayki who works as a teacher in the school, but after pleading for fair treatment due to her health condition, she was allowed to follow in her own car to the police station where she went through harsh and humiliating investigation for hours before being released. On the same day her colleague, Fatima Sarhan, who was on maternity leave during the teachers’ strike was summoned as well. Ameena A.Nabi Al Mulla, an art teacher in the same school, was arrested from her home at 1.30am after her father’s house was raided and security forces failed to find her there. Both her house and her father’s were searched and vandalized. She was arrested for more than 10 days, where she was brutally tortured before being released. Four other teachers from Al Dair School were summoned on May 11 2011 but only 1 was released on the same day, leaving the others in custody.
On 19 April 2011, and during the intensified nightly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in their villages, it was decided that a band from the National Guard would be playing in Yathreb Intermediate School for girls in a day of loyalty to Bahrain’s leadership. The school consists of a majority of pro-democracy students and such a move to host a day of loyalty seemed to aim at provoking the students. In the morning, many riot police were stationed outside the school’s gates as well as a number of policewomen inside the school, which caused a feeling of fear amongst students and teachers. Mona, one of the teachers, said that policewomen started attacking the pro-democracy students and teachers after false allegations from some pro-regime students that they were chanting “Down with Hamad (King of Bahrain)”. That is when the policewomen started going to every classroom along with some of the students and teachers to identify those who had supposedly chanted the slogan. They would take the girls to the school courtyard, beating and insulting them on the way and forcing them to stand facing a wall under the scorching sun. Mona continues, “We teachers, could not do anything. We would be shouted at and insulted whenever we left our offices. Two of my colleagues, Khadija Habib and Mahdiya were arrested that day and taken with the students to the police station”. Mona says that the next day riot police was completely surrounding the school and filling it with policewomen who arrested 8 teachers that day, taking them to a police station where they were subjected to humiliation and physical torture. On 5 May 2011, the administrative supervisor of Yathreb School was summoned for investigation and then released and on 9 May 2011, more than 10 teachers were summoned to a police station, 3 of which were arrested and tortured and on 19 April then released .
Hamad Town Secondary School for girls is one of the schools whose teachers were arrested from school premises on May 4 2011. It has been reported that at least one of the classes was attacked by masked women, where the teacher was forced to leave in front of the students who were taking an exam, causing disruption in the classroom. They were taken to Hamad Town roundabout 17’s police station in a bus, where they were insulted and called names. They were released almost 10 hours later after going through hours of inhumane torture.
Until few days before the end of the national safety status, the raids on schools continued, and on 25 May at 9am, 4 policewomen came to Al Qairawan Intermediate school for girls, with a list of 25 teachers to be taken to the nearby police station, after all teachers were in the meeting room, their bags, flash memories and laptops were confiscated before they were escorted to a bus where they were brutally assaulted and ill-treated. (Details below)
Many more schools were attacked and even a larger number of teachers were arrested, interrogated, charged baselessly for going on strike, and participating in peaceful protests in the pearl roundabout or in front of their schools. They were also falsely accused of inciting hatred towards the regime. All these accusations demonstrate the Bahraini government’s illegal violation of teachers’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Torture and humiliation
All teachers that were arrested or interrogated have been subjected to cruel and ill-treatment by security forces.
Ali Al Banna, a teacher and member of the Teachers union, has been arrested for over two months. His family were allowed very few visits, reporting that he was blind folded for around two months.
One of the female teachers says “Around 10 policewomen were asking me and beating me at the same time then they handcuffed me and kept beating me on the head and back while kicking me and stepping on my feet. They would push me to spin until I lose my balance and fall, all while being insulted verbally and made fun of”. She continues saying that they made her call her colleague and lie to her to come and when she arrived, she was beaten, insulted and tortured the same way.
Sameera was called for investigation along with her other colleagues where they were all insulted and made ridiculed. They were made to stand the whole time and when asked any question whatever answer they give would get them severely beaten. She says that one of her colleagues who had detained brothers, was beaten very roughly on the face and head that she could hear the sound of the beating from the corridor where she was waiting for her turn.
Sameera’s colleague wasn’t the only one beaten on the head and face. Layla, another teacher, had her head stitched after it was smashed on the wall. Layla’s colleague, who had had a major back surgery was kicked on her back repeatedly after she told the officers about her surgery in hope of better treatment .
One teacher who spoke to AFP in April said she was threatened with rape if she did not confess to taking part in protests. "You'd better confess. Otherwise, I'd take you to the other interrogation room where men would make you talk" she said, quoting an officer's threat. The woman was dragged from her workplace along with other Shiite colleagues. In the bus to the police station, policewomen slapped their faces and made her chant pro-monarchy slogans, she said. She asked AFP not to disclose details about her job because police warned them not to talk about their ordeal while in custody. The woman said she eventually confessed to taking part in demonstrations at Pearl Square, epicenter of the anti-regime protests, and also to protesting at work.
Another teacher of AlQirawan Intermediate School said she and 25 colleagues were hauled out of their school one morning (25 May 2011) by women police who came in two buses. "They asked us if we went to the roundabout, did we want to bring down the government, and they hinted that they would abuse us sexually once we arrived at the station," the teacher said. "They made us sing the national anthem and say 'the people want Khalifa bin Salman'," the powerful prime minister of 42 years who is seen as a hardliner in the ruling family. In the local police station some of the women faced sexual harassment, the teacher said. "They sexually harassed most of us, but there are things I can't say that they did," she said. "Some teachers never went to the roundabout but had to admit that they did. I was there and admitted that I was, but they wanted me to say I had got a mut'a marriage," she said, referring to a Shi'ite form of temporary marriage. "They said 'Your loyalty is to Iran, let Iran take care of you'. They called us Zoroastrians and said we teach prostitution." The women were forced to sign papers vowing good behaviour and readiness to return to police stations if requested, which would circumvent the ending of the emergency laws.
In the police station, other teachers were also brutally beaten using a stick with nails, asked to take their clothes off and a dog or a cat was brought to the investigation room for one of the teachers while she was blind folded to scare her. They were made to stand facing the wall from 10am to 3pm and were not allowed to go to the restroom until 3pm, when they gave them permission to go to the restroom and sit only on the floor.
Dozens of torture and abuse cases have been reported by teachers from schools around Bahrain and many are being reported everyday to BCHR which indicated the systematic targeting to teachers and educators by the Bahraini regime.
Work Suspension, layoffs and deprivation of pay
The actions against teachers differed and while some were arrested by the Ministry of Interior, the others were instead punished by the Ministry of Education. The MOE’s actions varied from deductions in salaries to complete cuts in salary for months to suspensions. Some teachers, despite attending work throughout the ongoing strike, were subjected to this injustice, either being suspended or sacked.
BCHR received the complaints of more than 30 teachers who had their salaries partially deducted to amounts varying from BD40 to more than BD200. Other teachers were not paid for months. In Al Dair Elementary School for girls 33 teachers were not paid since March out of a faculty of 50 teachers; that is almost 66% of faculty.
Other teachers were suspended, 23 teachers from one school, Ruqaya Elementary School, although numbers not confirmed but it is believed to be dozens.
Furthermore, It has recently been reported that a number of teachers have been sacked, although not officially announced. The Unions Federation in Bahrain reports that 60 employees have been sacked from the Ministry of Education, mostly believed to be teachers (27 June 2011). Al Wasat newspaper, 15 June, published that a total of 8 teachers and principals have been sacked from Al Ahd Al Zaher School. It also reported that more were under investigation in the “Disciplinary Committee”, which is the last step in the process of expulsion in the ministry . On June 19th, the same newspaper published that more teachers have been sacked without confirming the number but stating that amongst them are teachers with more than 20 years of experience in the field .
Sacking teachers is an ongoing process as 13 teachers were fired just last week, Thursday, July 7, from Imam Al Ghazali Intermediate School for Boys allegedly for calling for strike and protests while there were no protests in the school at anytime as teachers confirmed; sacking decision are being communicated verbally to teachers without any documents proving it .
On June 5 2011 the Minister of Education, Majed Al Noaimi, stated that “Teachers will not be sacked by the end of the school year. Also, all teachers under investigation are getting paid” . This statement has proved to be wrong as many teachers have already been sacked and their salaries cut.
MoE investigations and schools’ environment
Teachers have been facing severe degradation, not only being subjected to arrests, humiliation, insults, torture, and sacking but also have been subjected to an aggressive working environment not knowing what will happen next.
The Ministry of Education has been sending probe committees to schools or calling them to the ministry for interrogation. There are teachers who have been through up to 4 interrogations where they were questioned about participating in peaceful protests, going to the Pearl roundabout, being members of the teachers’ union or any political society for that matter, going on strike, and participating in sit-ins in front of schools or the ministry premises.
The consistent interrogations and the aggression in the schools towards them being looked at as criminals and treated as traitors being reported on by their colleagues and schools’ management has created a difficult environment to work in and it was made even tougher awaiting to be called for yet another interrogation or to be told that they have been sacked.
Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jaleela Al Salman were amongst the first educators to be presented before military court for their position in the Bahrain Teachers Society as president and vice president. On June 6, they pleaded not guilty to “of inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlets, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal gatherings”, their case was adjourned to June 15, as the military prosecuter stated.
Khadeeja Saeed, a teacher who was detained for 3 days in April after arresting her from Yathreb Intermediate School was sentenced in June after a military tribunal to 3 years imprisonment. She was released on bail until the appeal court issue its verdict in her case. And she could be re-arrested if court confirmed the initial verdict of imprisonment.
Another teacher from Al Busaiteen School was called on June 20, to be present before the military court the following day June 21. In the court she learned that her crime is sit-in and crowding in front of the school calling for the downfall of the regime; her case was adjourned to a civil court, date to be determined.
All teachers who have been arrested and some of those who underwent interrogations by the Ministry of Interior were informed that they will be summoned anytime for their trials, therefore, it is expected that more teachers and educators will be presented before court to be prosecuted in the days to come. It’s also expected that there were many other trials but there is little information published about them due to the ban on publication of any news related to the martial trials, expected selected few cases by the martial prosecutor .
Violation of International Laws
Bahrain regime represented in the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Development has violated several international human rights laws by the actions they have taken against teachers and teachers’ society members:
Action : Dissolving Bahrain Teachers’ society Violated Law: Resolution on Trade Union Rights by Education International: 15. Elected or appointed representatives of unions must be protected by law against unfair dismissal, arbitrary detention or other negative actions by governments or employers as a result of authorized trade union activity; 23. Unions shall have the right to undertake industrial action, including strike action
Action : Targeting teachers and BTS for participating in peaceful protests Violated Law: Universal Declaration of human rights: Article 29: Freedom of peaceful assembly (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association Action : Targeting teachers and BTS for express their opinions and demanding political reforms Violated Law: Universal Declaration of human rights: Article 29: Freedom of opinion and expression Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
Action : Arresting 74% female teachers and raiding girls schools Violated Law: UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women:
Article 4 States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women and, to this end, should: (a) Consider, where they have not yet done so, ratifying or acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women or withdrawing reservations to that Convention; (b) Refrain from engaging in violence against women
Article 3 (g) The right to just and favorable conditions of work; (h) The right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
BCHR calls upon the international committee to put an end to the violations of human rights and the mass brute force used against teachers in Bahrain and based on the above demands:
• Release of all detained teachers and members of Bahrain teachers society • Stop all prosecutions against teachers and teachers unionist immediately • Stop the systematic discrimination against the teachers who called for democracy and reform • Put an end to arbitrary dismissal of teachers and return all the dismissed and suspended to their jobs, including the members of Bahrain Society of Teachers (BTS) • Provide teachers with protection and safety within the schools’ premises and an environment free of aggression and discrimination • Formally apologize to teachers who have been subjected to violence and humiliation for exercising their rights • Cancel the Civil Service Bureau Act 1 from 2003, which banned the establishment of unions in the governmental sector. This act deprives a wide range of workers from their right to form unions alongside that of their fellow workers in the private sector. • Cancel the added Articles (103, 104, 105 and 106) to table of violations and sanctions by Civil Services Bureau as instructed by the civil services No. 22 issued on 28 July 2008 which restricts the political activities of public sectors employees .
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