“Arab spring” brings chill wind to Nazeeha Saeed
When the “Arab spring” brought people onto the streets of Bahrain, Nazeeha Saeed went out to do her job as a reporter for international broadcasters. But after covering an anti-government demonstration she was held in a police station for 13 hours, during which she says she was tortured.
The demonstration took place in May 2011, and Nazeeha, who works for the TV channel France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, was called to the station by a policewoman called Sara al-Moussa. While in custody, she says, al-Moussa and four other officers, one of them a man, blindfolded her, beat, kicked, slapped and humiliated her and finally forced her to sign papers she was not allowed to read. She later said that after her ordeal she had been unable to walk.
Nazeeha, who says the authorities failed for several months to investigate her account of the incident, filed a complaint of torture against the officers in January 2012, supporting it with medical reports showing she had sustained bruising. But when the case came to court in June, after further months of delay, only al-Moussa faced trial. In October she was acquitted and, according to news reports, no action has been taken in respect of the others.
With support from MLDI and international law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Nazeeha is now seeking to appeal against the acquittal of al-Moussa and to have the other officers put on trial. Her application was heard at a court session at the end of December and set down for judgment on 14 February.
Meanwhile, MLDI is preparing a letter to be sent to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and the Independence of Judges and Lawyers asking them to make inquiries with the Bahraini authorities about the handling of Nazeeha’s case.
This is not Nazeeha’s first encounter with Bahrain’s justice system since the beginning of the protest movement. In a separate case in 2011 she was a witness at the trial of two police officers accused of killing two demonstrators. In her evidence she said she personally saw one of the officers kill a demonstrator. The two officers were acquitted.
In this small island monarchy off the coast of Saudi Arabia the majority of the population are Shia Muslims, while the ruling family are Sunni. The Shia are strongly represented in the “Arab spring” movement, which seeks political reform. The sectarian tension reflects the wider division in the Middle East between Iran, which is dominated by the Shia, and the Sunni regimes of the Gulf, notably Saudi Arabia, which helped at an early stage in repressing demonstrations in Bahrain.
Nazeeha says that during her detention she was questioned and accused of having links with a Lebanese Shia Hezbullah TV station and the Iranian Arabic station, Al-Alam.