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Rayhana Al-Musawi Talks to Bahrain Mirror about Her Prison Woes (Part 1)

[The following introduction by Bahrain Mirror and personal narrative by Rayhana Al-Musawi was published on Bahrain Mirror on 10 May 2016]

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive):

She is calm enough for one to think that she is shy and easy to break, and strong enough for one to be shocked by the first impression. When she was taken to the Isa Town Police Station, one of the policewomen told her: "We used to hear your name and hear about your charges and thought that they were going to bring a big (body) woman with a loud voice, yet when they brought you in, we didn't believe that it was you."

The charge raised against her was "involvement" in what was known as the "February 14 Group". Rayhana Al-Mosawi served 3 full years in prison, which makes her the Bahraini woman who spent the longest prison term, consecutively, since the 2011 events.

This is the first time Rayhana Al-Mosawi opens up about the memory of her breakdown, sufferings, tears and pain; her memory that she says has become easily distracted and forgetful as a result of her experience in prison and torture. She is; however, still capable of recalling all the agonizing details; these memories that she still cannot believe happened despite the physical and psychological pain she had to endure.

Rayhana Al-Mosawi untangled all the knots that tied her throughout those three years and tells Bahraini Mirror the story of her breakdown since the day of her arrest until her release from prison, and how she managed to prevent herself from falling into depression, but at the end of the day, she says: I had prepared myself to be locked up for 10 years and now I am stronger and we shall never break.

First Breakdown: Naked on Camera

I cannot but start with the most difficult experience, which you all know, yet no one can take in. It wasn't one time, I was stripped naked twice in one day. Yes twice. It happened at the West Riffa Police Station, where I was subjected to the worst degrading, inhumane, immoral and unreligious treatment. I heard curse and swear words, mocking my religion and sect, which I had never imagined hearing in my entire life. The reason behind stripping me naked wasn't searching me, since they did a full body search. The reason behind stripping me was to pressure me into confessing about the name of the party that urged us to go to the Formula 1 that day. The first time the policewomen took be to the bathroom, they left the door open and ordered me to take off all my clothes. Everyone that passed by saw me, so I asked them to close the door but to no avail. The policewoman kept asking me questions: "What party are you affiliated to? What's the name of your society?" I; however, denied having involvement in any group. They were adamant that we didn't go there on our own and that a certain group or party we are affiliated to sent us there, and other people were with us as well. I repeatedly stressed that Nafeesa and I individually took that decision to protest before the international crowd and that's all there is to it. One of the policewomen asked me: "Are you married?" I nodded yes, so she said: "Then why is your body like this as if you are suffering from famine in Africa!" They left me like this for about an hour and then gave me my clothes back. I wore my clothes in the policewomen's office. After around two hours, they took me to a small office: a table attached to the wall facing a chair with a camera hung on the ceiling. The policewoman came and ordered me to take off my clothes again so I refused and said to her: "I just took off my clothes and you gave them back to me, why again?" "You will take them all off whether you like it or not," she replied. This time they left me like that for almost 10 minutes before returning my clothes. They stripped me completely of my clothes with a camera pointed at me up on the ceiling. I didn't know at the time that it was a camera for I have no knowledge of these things. I found out when I was detained and I saw another one pointed at me and asked the policewoman: "What is that?" So, she said: "It's a camera, why are you asking?" "Nothing, just a question," I replied. That was enough to make me have a complete breakdown, wondering what will await me!!"

When I stood before the judge (Ali Khalifa Al-Dhahrani) in my first court hearing over the February 14 cell case, I kept on raising my hand requesting to speak but the judge continued to gesture telling me to wait. I knew that they had nothing to convict me with and making me part of this group was only for the purpose of putting me behind bars. Being sentenced to life imprisonment wasn't unlikely to me. I thought to myself: "I cannot do anything about the decision they will make, the offense they will accuse me of and the unjust sentence they will issue, but I can take a stand. They prevented me from taking a stand at the Formula 1 but now I won't miss this chance. I don't know what awaits me inside prison and I don't know how many female detainees were subjected to what I was subjected to and maybe they were just too shy to reveal it. I must tell the world what happens during arrests. It is not just Rayhana's issue. It is a cause of oppressed people." The courtroom was full of defendants in the same case and lawyers and I was the only woman among the accused. I raised my hand asking for permission to talk. I continued to repeatedly raise my hand before the judge allowed me to talk. To reveal what I experienced required a great deal of psychological effort, and when I finished talking, the whole room went silent and everyone was in shock. I saw the judge's face who looked so confused and disturbed. It wasn't long before they dragged me outside and I don't know what happened after that.

Second Breakdown: Interrogation Hell

During my detention period at the investigations department I was showered by an entire dictionary of obscene language, the nastiness of which no one can imagine no matter how much you have heard about it. I heard many stories about what happens at the investigations department and I used to say to myself, baffled: "Could it reach to that extent?" Now, I say: "No one can take in the extent of physical and psychological torture that takes place at the investigations department until one experiences it.

For three days, I couldn't tell day from night, from 21 to 23 April, 2013. The entire time I was at the investigations department, my eyes were covered with a blindfold made of two layers of fabric, which they used to tie so hard to the extent that I felt it was sinking into my eye sockets. It hurt a lot and I paid the price afterwards. I was placed in a very narrow room; when I went to sleep my legs bumped on the walls. I didn't sleep during these days. The place was freezing cold. The room was as cold as a freezer. Whenever my head tilted from exhaustion and I seemed as if I was falling asleep, the policewoman yelled at the top of her lungs: "Rayhana, don't sleep. Sit back up!!" The questions were really cruel and the threats were unlimited. The simplest of these threats were: "You will only leave this place when you're pregnant;" "we will bring your mother-in-law and rape you in front of her;" "we will raid your son hussein's school as we did to Al-Jaberiya school and take him." They wanted me to rat out people I didn't know at all. They mentioned names of people I didn't know. They used to uncover my eyes and place a cellphone in my face with pictures of people and tell me to say that I know them. "Say you know him, say you did this and that, say you put the tires in this place, say you attacked this police station, say you planted a hoax bomb in that place, say you are with this group," they told me.

They asked me about the "Saraya", I later found out that they meant "Saraya Al-Ashtar" [Al-Ashtar Brigades] and I hadn't heard of them before and that name wasn't well-known at the time. I told them: "I know the Saraya Sar project," so they replied: "Are you mocking us?" I then told them that I wasn't and that's what I knew. Indeed, I didn't know anything about it.

They used to rub their shoes on my legs and body. I was kicked, beaten, exposed to electric shocks and as for slaps on my face, they were nonstop. I reached to the point of exhaustion and breakdown and I repeatedly fainted. They forced me to drink water that I wasn't sure what it contained. I became incapable of answering their questions. I lost my ability to focus and whenever I listened to the question, I needed time to comprehend it, asked them to repeat it and repeated it to myself over and over again until I understood it. And I fainted many times before even being able to give an answer. They used to think that I was thinking about the answer and tell me that my delayed response is proof that I am not telling the truth, when I was actually trying to understand the question. When the policewoman used to take me away, she dragged me from one building to the next as if I was blind, so I get tired and fall to the ground and then she yells at me.

During the time I was detained at the investigations department in that small room, I used to hear the sound of torture and beatings in the nearby room and the screams of youth that shook the walls as they shook my whole being. The sounds of their torture and screams were like daggers piercing my body from within, as I waited from my turn. How can I describe these moments that passed as if they were years? I cannot recount them, but they shall never be erased from my memory and their marks shall never fade with time.

Those who interrogated me weren't only Bahrainis, there were Emiratis, Pakistanis and Yemenis as well. They were all men. The ones who beat me at the investigations building were all men. They slapped me and kicked me like a ball until my hearing and my eyesight were damaged, and  until I couldn't hear from my left ear anymore. I was taken afterwards to the forensics doctor. The doctor saw the beating marks but all the forensics doctors are affiliated to the Interior Ministry.

My activities on the ground were limited to photography, documentation and treatment. They knew all my movements. One of the informants even told me when I was blindfolded: "If your eyes were uncovered, you would know who I am. You takes photos and treat the injured. I can recognize you among a thousand women no matter what clothing you wore to hide yourself."

They read a statement to me and told me that I have to memorize it by heart and recite it as it is to the public prosecution. Before I was taken to the public prosecution, they put me in a room with a masked person who began to ask me questions and I was supposed to literally answer according to their statement. Whenever I made a mistake, they took me outside the room for five minutes and asked me the same questions again and I had to give the same answers. I was taken outside the room about 6 times. They wanted me to memorize something I never experienced!

They counted the times I traveled to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria and fabricated a story claiming that during my multiple visits to Iran I met with Iranian Revolutionary Guard figures from whom I received training and met Sayyed Khamenei as well. They further alleged that I went to Lebanon from Syria without having my passport stamped and met with Sayed Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Sheikh Naim Kassem, and that I was trained to commit terrorist acts for the purpose of launching bomb attacks!

Third Breakdown: Public Prosecution Confessions

When they told me that they were taking me to the public prosecution, I was glad, because I expected them to be fair and thought I was going to be able to state what happened to me and not go back to the investigations department. I was shocked to witness the complete opposite. The public prosecution head yelled in my face and his treatment was not different from that of the officers who detained and interrogated me. He even wanted to strike out my answers. I was simply answering the questions and didn't care about the statement I was told to say at the investigations department. He; however, told me that there is no need for me to answer because he has all my answers ready. They didn't allow my lawyer to enter even though he was there in the building waiting to come in. I heard the documentor inform the public prosecution chief that the lawyer was waiting downstairs but he replied by saying: "No [need for] lawyers, no nonsense."

At that point I felt a complete breakdown; anyone who saw me would have been certain that I could not make it to the next day. I started crying nonstop. I was crying hysterically and totally lost control. A white-haired man dressed in white came along with three others and threatened me: "Shut up or else..." I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I was shaking. They took me down the stairs and then beat me and kicked me as I continued to weep and scream.

I didn't know that after the public prosecution, I was going to be sent back to the investigations department. I thought I was either going to be released or detained. That's why I didn't answer the questions based on the statement read to me by the investigations department. I paid a price for that and was tortured again, although I signed the prepared written confessions I was given.

Fourth Breakdown: Charge of Organizing Feb. 14 Group

On April 24, I was transferred to Isa Town Police Station. Although there was a great difference between my situation here and there, I remained in a very bad psychological state. We were eight women, Arab and foreign, in the cell. At first, I was just me and Nafeesa and then they added more prisoners to the cell.

I lived through the shock of learning that I was charged of involvement in the February 14 cell alone. I hadn't seen my family for 20 days, and I had to suffer alone and no one from my family knew what I was going through. I found out that I was "part" of the February 14 cell in the newspapers. I read the papers that were allowed inside prison on a daily basis. A week after I was sent to the station -I remember it was a Thursday (June 13, 2013)- I was surprised that there were no newspapers. I asked about them, so they told me that the papers didn't arrive today, but I had seen one of the workers bring them inside the building. Since I almost never sleep and I always sit next to the window, I saw when the newspapers were brought inside. They stalled and finally told me that they were with the chief and not available right now because her office is locked.

On Friday, they brought the local newspapers in and one of them was from the previous day. I was standing while watching the prisoners browse the papers and then I noticed a picture of a woman that looks like me. I said wow (Subhanallah)! This picture in the paper looks just like me. I took a close look and said: Oh...that's me in the paper, and then saw my name but didn't notice the headline at first. When, I saw the headline, I was shocked. It read: "Interior Ministry: "February 14" Organization Identified and a Number of Field leaders and Executors Arrested"!!

My eyes were wide open. I couldn't believe what I was reading. What is this?!! Me?!! February 14?!! How, when, why?!! How could a protest movement whose aim was to attract attention and that all it did was hold posters turn into a bombing and "terrorist" cell case?!!! How did they get all these people and link them together?! How did they fabricate all this in a short period of time?! I started to walk and talk to myself, February 14?!! February 14?!! I don't know how they got the idea to make me part of the February 14 cell. I really don't know. I immediately decided to go on a hunger strike in protest.

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