By Mohammed Ramadhan* – Newsweek
On a day when billions will be surrounded by loved ones celebrating the birth of Jesus, I will be facing the death penalty. I have committed no crime, so the Kingdom of Bahrain has invented some and tortured me into ‘confessing’ to them. This is my punishment for standing up for freedom and democracy.
When hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in 2011 to peacefully demand democratic reforms, I joined the protests, believing Bahrain’s rulers would heed the concerns of their citizens.
Instead, America’s ally in the Gulf responded with senseless brutality. Over the next few years, protesters were hunted down: thousands were imprisoned, political opposition was outlawed and torture became routine. As an employee of the security services who dared question the regime, I was singled out for special punishment.
In February 2014, I was working a night shift as a security officer at Bahrain International Airport when two plainclothes officers approached me. They asked me to come to the Preventative Security Department to answer some routine questions. It was only when the car pulled up outside Bahrain’s notorious Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) that I realized something was wrong.
When I entered the building, I was blindfolded, plunging my life into darkness. My hands were cuffed behind my back as I was beaten with iron bars. Any weakness they could find was cruelly exploited. When they discovered my back injury, I was forced to stand until I collapsed. When they learned I had undergone fertility treatment, they kicked me repeatedly in the testicles.
I was stripped naked, powerless to resist humiliating sexual assaults. They threatened to rape my wife and sisters in front of me. After four days of this physical and emotional torture, I was a broken man.
The officers knew I was innocent. They brought up my participation in demonstrations and cursed me as a traitor. They even told me they were waiting for a major case to frame me in.
Eventually, I was charged with planting a bomb that killed a police officer. There was no forensic evidence against me, just a confession my co-defendant Hussein Moosa signed after he was tortured and hung by his wrists from the ceiling for three days. The outcome of my trial was a foregone conclusion. I was not even permitted to instruct a lawyer to defend me until I had already been sentenced to death.
My young twins were just two years old when I arrived on death row. I have watched them grow up through the glass window that separates inmates during family visits, unable to even hold their hands to comfort them.
In 2015, Hussein and I exhausted all legal remedies, meaning a stroke of the King’s pen would seal our fates. In 2017, we watched three fellow inmates being led out to the firing squad, the first political executions in Bahrain for 20 years. There are eight other political prisoners on death row at risk of imminent execution. I cannot describe how it feels knowing you could be next.
Hussein and I were offered a glimmer of hope when human rights groups Reprieve and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy revealed the extent of British support for Bahraini institutions set up to whitewash torture. The acute embarrassment this caused the U.K. government led to a public outcry, and was sufficient to secure a review of our cases.
Yet this hope was dashed when I arrived at court on 27 November, 2019, expecting to hear the final verdict on our case, to hear that it had been delayed until Christmas Day.
Bahrain has previously tried to avoid international scrutiny by burying bad news on days when Western audiences are distracted. This summer, the Kingdom waited until British MPs were on summer holiday before executing two more political opponents. On 25 December 2017, a Bahraini military court sentenced six men to death. This Christmas, Hussein and I are likely to be next.
If Bahrain thought it might lose the West’s unconditional support, it could change my fate. British Embassy representatives attended my case review, but failed to condemn my sham trial or comment on my torture. On paper, the British Government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. In practice, they have supported Bahraini bodies who helped put me and Hussein on death row.
As a Muslim, I revere Jesus as an inspiration to the oppressed and a symbol of resistance in the face of injustice. Yet, Bahrain’s rulers are turning a day of peace and celebration into one of cruelty and retribution. This Christmas, I urge you to spare a moment to voice your objection to Bahrain’s tyranny. My life and Hussein’s are in your hands.
*Mohammed Ramadhan is a father of three from Bahrain, tortured into making a false confession to serious crimes following his attendance at pro-democracy protests. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.