Reporters Without Borders

France 24 correspondent tortured for covering pro-democracy demonstrations

France 24 correspondent tortured for covering pro-democracy demonstrations

Published on Monday 30 May 2011.
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When Nazeeha Saeed, the Bahrain correspondent of France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, was summoned to a police station in the city of Rifa’a for questioning at midday on 22 May, she expected to be back home two hours later and had no inkling of the nightmare awaiting her.

On arriving at the police station, she took a seat and waited calmly. Other women, mainly nurses, were also waiting, sitting on the floor.

An hour later, she was called. She entered an office where there was a male officer. In a quiet but unsettling voice, he told her to answer the questions that would be put to her. He then left her with a female officer, who accusing her of “lying” in her reports and told her to admit her links with the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar and the Iranian Arabic-language TV station Al-Alam. “You must confess,” the woman kept repeating, going on to accuse her of participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations that have taking place in Bahrain since March.

An hour later, she was taken to another office. There, a woman police officer mocked and insulted her. When Nazeeha ignored her, the policewoman grabbed her by the chin, held it hard, and slapped her with the other hand. “You must tell me the truth,” she screamed, continuing to slap her and then seizing her by the hair and throwing her to the ground. Four policewomen proceeded to slap, punch and kick her repeatedly. One of the women took her shoe and forced it into her mouth. “You are worth less than this shoe," she said.

With the shoe still in her mouth, she was dragged to yet another office, where she was blindfolded and was initially made to stand. Then she was forced to kneel on a chair, facing the back of the chair, exposing her back and the soles of her feet, which were now beaten repeatedly with a piece of flexible black plastic tubing. As she cried out with pain, a police officer kept shouting “Shut up and answer my questions” without asking any questions or without giving her time to say anything.

She continued to be accused of lying and of “harming Bahrain’s image.” The blows kept on coming. The blindfold finally fell from her eyes and she noticed the male officer, the one who had spoken to her initially, coldly observing the scene.

Nazeeha was then taken to a room where there were other women, nurses, who were awaiting their turn to be interrogated.

After a while, she was taken back for another interrogation session. The nightmare resumed. Blindfolded again, she was told to bray like a donkey and to walk like an animal. A new humiliation. And she was beaten again. At one point, a woman held a plastic bottle against her mouth. “Drink, it’s urine,” the woman cried, pressing her lips against the mouth of the bottle. Nazeeha managed to knock the bottle out of the policewoman’s hand, but the policewoman picked it up and poured part of its contents over her face. Nazeeha did not know what it was, but it stung her face.

She was taken to another office and was forced to kneel on a chair again. The soles of her feet, her back, her arms and her head were again beaten with the plastic tube.

She was taken back to the room where other women were waiting and the blindfold was removed. When she recovered the use of her eyes, she saw that it was past midnight. All the women, including Nazeeha, were now allowed to go to the toilet and were brought food. They were also brought documents to sign, without being able to read them. Nazeeha signed.

The policewoman who had initially received her at the police station checked all the women with a stethoscope and told them they would be sent to prison for 45 days, pending trial.

The head of the police station nonetheless asked to see Nazeeha. He told her he was very surprised to find her there and pretended not to know she had been interrogated. She was allowed to phone her mother and was finally allowed to return home. But she has not yet recovered from the ordeal. She continues to suffer physical and psychological after-effects.

The interior ministry subsequently announced proceedings against those responsible for the mistreatment. Nazeeha gave an account of her ordeal to the military prosecutor in charge of the investigation.

She is currently in France receiving medical care and is due to return to Bahrain tomorrow.

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the way this journalist was mistreated and urges the authorities to carry out an independent and transparent investigation that sheds all possible light on this shocking and disgraceful episode. Those responsible should be charged and tried, as should those in the chain of command who were involved.

This young woman’s case gives a glimpse of the treatment of journalists by security forces in Bahrain. The list of detained reporters, photographers and cyber-dissidents keeps on getting longer amid complete indifference on the part of the international community.

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