Bahrain Made Personal: One Woman’s Story of Her Missing Father
Aseel Ibrahim Sharif interviewed by Anna Therese Day
22-year-old Aseel Ibrahim Sharif is the daughter of Ibrahim Sharif, the Secretary General of Bahrain’s secular opposition party and one of the hundreds of activists detained under the Bahraini government’s recent crackdown.
An activist in her own right, Aseel participated in Bahrain’s initial mid-February protests in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout. She describes herself as “one of the hundreds of women who voiced their opinion.” As she explained, “Nobody is silent in this movement.” Aseel’s activism was taken to a new level when her father was arrested over one month ago.
In her own words, Aseel describes the experience of her family, one of many families suffering through the regime’s crackdown.
Anna Therese Day (ATD): In your own words, can you describe the current situation in Bahrain and, within that context, why your father was targeted for government arrest?
Aseel Ibrahim Sharif (AIS): My father is Secretary General of the Bahraini opposition party, the National Democratic Action Society or “Wa’ad.” Wa’ad is different than the main opposition parties because we are secular, we don’t mix politics and religion.
What has happened in Bahrain is that the government has decided to frame the movement as a sectarian movement to pin it on the Shia. They’re basically fabricating a story about the Shia wanting to overthrow the regime for Iran in order to use this as an excuse to crack down on the protestors.
The fact of the matter is, the protest movement is peaceful, and the demands were never sectarian, they were always national. And that’s where my father comes in. He is Sunni – even though we are secular – but he is a Sunni leader in the end. He does not represent the Sunni nor does he claim to represent the Sunni, but it’s notable to the government to see a Sunni person stand up against the Sunni regime. It’s usually the Shia who voice their opinion more, because they are the majority that is oppressed.
With that said, however, the protest movement encompassed both Shia and Sunni. The majority was Shia, of course, because they are the majority of the population, but there were many Sunnis that were standing with them and the same is true on the other side. The pro-government side was mostly Sunni, but you also have some Shia with them. If the movement was sectarian, you’d see a clear divide, but the government is trying to make it sectarian right now by specifically targeting Shia villages, cracking down on Shia activists, cracking down on athletes, lawyers, nurses, you name it from one sect to turn the whole movement into a sectarian movement.
ATD: What happened on the night of March 17th, the night that your father was arrested?
AIS: My father was taken on March 17th from our house at 2AM. I wasn’t in Bahrain so I got all of this information from my mother, but from her testimony, around 40 masked and armed men came to our house and demanded that my father leave the house. At one point, they pointed a gun at him. When he asked, “Who are you? Where’s your warrant? Where’d you come from?” they avoided the questions until they finally said basically, “We’re security, you have to come with us.” They wouldn’t disclose where he was going.
He left peacefully, there was no resistance from him at all, and, ever since he was taken away, we’ve only received one phone call from him a few weeks after his arrest. The only thing that he managed to say was basically, “I’m fine, and say ‘hi’ to the kids, and how are they?” We haven’t had any visitation rights, we’re not allowed to enter into any investigations, we aren’t even allowed to speak about him under the emergency state in Bahrain.
Everything is a mystery when it comes to the detainees. Their families are usually left in the dark and you just hope for the best. Sometimes they go in and they never come out – my father has already been hospitalized twice, and in recent weeks, we’ve seen that four detainees died in custody.
ATD: What are the demands of your family and others for the resolution of the crackdown in Bahrain?
AIS: We have asked for my father’s release and we continue to do so. We believe that the only forces that will be able to resolve this situation in Bahrain are diplomatic forces abroad. We need the Great Powers and Allies, like the U.S. and the U.K., to intervene and to ensure the safety of detainees, including my father.
In terms of detainees, our demands include that they [the Al-Khalifa regime] uphold basic human rights – allowing phone calls, the presence of a lawyer for all detainees, and a fair trial – and, with that said, we also urge an investigation into the treatment of the detainees. As I mentioned before, four have already died in custody, and the ones who were viewed and photographed by Human Rights Watch showed clear signs of brutal torture, with lash marks all over their bodies.
I think it’s important for the American people to press their government to uphold the democratic values that the U.S. prides itself on. No one should allow any ally of the U.S. to torture their citizens, to make arrests and detainment just for wanting political reform. So I urge all Americans to step up and to use the appropriate channels to pressure President Obama to speak to our government, to send them a harsh wake-up call and stern words to stop torture and end injustice in Bahrain.
Watch this video of Aseel Ibrahim Shari speaking at the Pearl Roundabout on February 20, 2011. (The first minute of her speech is in Arabic. The rest is in English.)
Anna Therese Day is a freelance journalist covering the democratic upheavals throughout the Arab world.