On 7 October, at 2 a.m., Bahraini security forces raided the house of a single mother. They arrested one of her seven children, 24-year-old Taqi Abdulla, an American citizen. He has been in prison ever since.
Abdulla alleges that after the arrest, he was beaten, threatened with rape, and forced into confessing that he threw Molotov cocktails at a police water cannon on 5 October. He denies any involvement, claiming he was home at the time of the incident.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) issued a statement about Abdulla's case on 30 November, expressing its "grave concern" over his treatment. BCHR reports that at the time of writing, Taqi had not "been allowed access to legal representation [and] is deprived from adequate medical care that he needs". Taqi suffers from stomach ulcers and other gastric problems and requires a special diet, which he is reportedly not receiving.
The allegations made by Abdulla cannot be independently verified and the Bahrain government regularly denies any mistreatment of detainees. However, the claims are consistent with many other cases reported in recent months by human rights groups and opposition societies. There have also been many reports of prisoners being denied adequate medical care, including in high profile cases, such as Hassan Mushaima, whom Amnesty International consider to be a prisoner of conscience.
Taqi Abdulla was born in New Haven, Connecticut to a Bahraini mother and Saudi father. When he was 3, his family moved to Saudi Arabia. His parents divorced when he was 15. and since 2002 he has lived in Sanabis, Bahrain with his mother and six siblings. A close friend described him:
Taqi comes from a big and relatively poor family, however you could never see it affecting him in any kind of way. He is loved by everyone in his community. If I could describe him in one word, it would be fun. He is a joy to be around, he could always make me laugh, yet he challenges me and makes me think and encourages me to research different things.
Ahlam Oun, a human rights defender in Bahrain, recently visited Taqi's mother Amina at her family home:
She is a single, divorced, woman taking care of her 7 children. I was invited in her very small flat. You can tell that the financial situation is very concerning. The flat door opens directly onto the heart of the living room, with one room to the left and the other to right. The mother sleeps in the living room, whilst her girls sleep in the left room and her boys sleep in the right.
We sat and she started narrating the horrific story of her kidnapped son.
"On the 7th October 2012, at around 2am, I woke up with the sound of men over my head, pointing their flashlights and asking, 'Wake up, where are your kids?' I woke up with no veil over my head. One man was video taping me. They were all masked except for two."
"I pulled on a veil and wore it. I stood up and shockingly found around fifteen policemen in my small living room. I took another look at the clock to double check that it is true, it is 2 am. A man asked me, 'Where are your kids?' His accent was not native Bahraini, nor it was an accent of mercenaries. I told them where Tagi's room was."
Taqi's mother explained, "I had two choices. Either I start resisting their raid and hold on to my son, or I let them do what they came for. I had to choose not to resist. I had 3 girls sleeping in the opposite room. I didn't want to traumatize them with sounds of screaming. And I had 4 boys I didn't want to witness policemen beating me or beating them. And it was something I was prepared for over and over in my head because of the horrible stories of nightly raids, especially in Sanabis area. I begged them not to do anything to him inside the flat, not beat him and not to shout. If they wanted to do all that, I begged them to do it outside, my girls are so young to see this now."
"They went inside and shouted out Taqi! All the boys woke up. They asked him to bring his phone and his ID card. They took him and left."
Abdulla's family then went searching for him at police stations, that night and in the morning, though without any success. At 10am, his brother went to the US Embassy in Manama where he passed on details of Abdulla's case to an officer.
That night, nearly 22 hours after his arrest, Taqi Abdulla called. He told his mother that he was at Dry Dock Prison and had been "blindfolded", "beaten and kicked", "threatened with rape", "forced to stand on one foot", "dragged from room to room". He claimed he had been pressured to confess to throwing Molotov cocktails on a police water cannon used to disperse mourners following the funeral of Mohammed Mushaima on 5 October.
Abdulla added that he ultimately signed the confession papers after an officer threatened him, saying that they would rape his mother.
A representative from the US Embassy subsequently visited Abdulla in prison. In a later meeting with his mother, they told her that they could only observe the case and "try to make sure his human rights are being met". On 10 November, Amina wrote to US President Obama, hoping it might result in more pressure on the Bahraini authorities.
When the Bahrain Center for Human Rights issued its statement on Taqi on November 30th, his case still had not gone to court, and his lawyer had not been able to get permission to visit him in prison. Concerns about his health and the standard of his medical treatment were also rising.
Night raids have been a common and continuing feature of life for thousands of Bahrainis. Throughout November, for example, the village of Mahazza in Sitra was subject to what BCHR described as an "undeclared siege". From 1:30am, on November 22nd, there was "a series of random, wide-range break-ins which resulted in the storming of nearly 100 homes and the arrest of 14 people", according to the BCHR.
BCHR claim one citizen, "kidnapped" in Mahazza on 14 November, was "severely tortured and sexually assaulted". During his interrogation, an officer allegedly put "a gun on the table and threatened to kill Talib if he did not confess to the fabricated charges against him".
The claims that Abdulla was subject to abuse, made to sign a confession, and has been deprived of proper medical care whilst in prison are thus not remarkable. Similarly, the trauma suffered by his mother and family when security forces took him from his home in the middle of the night, coupled with the uncertainty of his condition, is a trauma suffered by countless families across Bahrain. In September, the main opposition society AlWefaq accused the Bahrain regime of holding "1400 citizens behind bars as hostages", using them as a "pressurising tool to terminate the public legitimate demands that have been raised by the people of Bahrain" since 14 February 2011.
With such actions, the Bahrain government can be said to have adopted a policy of "security through insecurity". To try and avoid any significant reforms, the regime is perpetuating sustained torment on citizens in villages it associates with the opposition. Its Western allies have acquiesced to this approach, in the naive hope that it will bring an end to the current instability.
So the "difference" in Abdulla's case is a US citizen. This is not to say that Abdulla warrants more attention because he has a US passport, but his case illustrates Washington's reluctance to engage with the specific, day-to-day, realities for others in Bahrain. Opting for quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy, the US is seen by many as fundamentally complicit in the path of repression --- not reform --- which the regime has pursued throughout 2012.
This softly-softly approach may rest upon fears that any overt involvement may encourage further anti-American sentiment from the loyalist side. A fortnight after Abdulla's arrest, for example, parliamentarians voted unanimously in favour of a proposal to take action over what they considered to be the US Ambassador's interference in Bahraini affairs.
So Taqi Abdulla remains amongst hundreds of individuals whose imprisonment warrants independent, impartial scrutiny, but who face a justice system that is deeply skewed towards the State. A year ago, following the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, countries like the US hoped that the Bahrain Government would implement substantial reforms in the security and judicial sectors. Twelve months on, the reverse is occurring. As a recent Amnesty International report titled the situation, "Promises of Reform Broken, Repression Unleashed".
In continually wishing for reforms to come true, and failing to publicly address and investigate the evidence of repression, the US and Bahrain's other allies are tacitly encouraging a status quo which has proven to be no friend to human rights, or even basic family security.
Just ask the family of Taqi Abdulla.