On Saturday, Bahrain arrested and deported two U.S. human rights lawyers, Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, for their role in recent protests. They were deported Sunday and returned to New York last night. Both Arraf and Sainath are human rights lawyers and members of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which places international observers in the country in the hopes of preventing violence by security forces. Their arrest comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the popular uprising against the U.S.-backed monarchy. In the past year, Bahraini security forces have killed dozens of demonstrators, and hundreds more have been arrested or fired from their jobs. "[We] also were getting reports of journalists and human rights organization representatives being denied entry into the country in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the Bahrain revolution. And this caused great alarm, that the government was planning to escalate its oppression of the people," says Huwaida Arraf. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Bahrain, where violence has escalated ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising against the U.S.-backed monarchy. In the past year, Bahraini security forces have killed dozens of demonstrators. Hundreds more have been arrested or fired from their jobs.
Bahraini riot police engaged in pitched battles with petrol-bomb-throwing youth on Sunday, as violence escalated ahead of the February 14th anniversary, while King Hamad mocked the opposition for its, quote, "bad manners."
On Saturday, Bahrain arrested and detained two U.S. citizens, Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, for their role in recent protests. They were deported Sunday, came back to New York yesterday. Both Arraf and Sainath are human rights activists, members of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which places Western observers in the country in order to inhibit violence by security forces.
This video shows Huwaida’s arrest. Bahrain security officials examine her American passport as she holds it but refuses to hand it over. Once they have identified her in the passport, she walks away, and a security officer follows and stops her. The website for Witness Bahrain, where this video and others are posted, is blocked in Bahrain.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: No, you can’t take it. I’ll show you where it says it’s the property of the U.S. government, and it stays with U.S. citizens only—
SECURITY OFFICIAL 1: Let people see it.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: —unless I’m with Immigration.
SECURITY OFFICIAL 1: No problem. Let people see it, please.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: You can see it. See?
SECURITY OFFICIAL 1: Yeah, come back, come back. Excuse me, please. Excuse me, ma’am.
SECURITY OFFICIAL 2: Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me, ma’am. You have to follow the order. We are police. Excuse me, ma’am. You don’t have a right to go. Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me! Excuse me!
AMY GOODMAN: Huwaida Arraf as she was arrested on Saturday by security forces in the Bahraini capital of Manama.
Meanwhile, U.S. Navy commander, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, yesterday expressed his support for the small Gulf nation that’s hosted U.S. Navy vessels for decades. Addressing the question of escalating tensions with Iran, Fox said Bahrain is, quote, "a long-term partner and a very important piece of our ability to do our mission." Bahrain is a key strategic ally of the United States in the Middle East, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Late last month, several members of Congress expressed opposition to the Obama administration’s decision to sell Bahrain military equipment despite the country’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The opposition was led by two Democrats: Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they wrote: "In the case of Bahrain, any military equipment is a big reward and will be viewed as such by other governments and the people of Bahrain. The incentives are simply wrong."
Well, to talk about the situation, we’re joined by the two women who were just deported from Bahrain: Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, both deported yesterday.
Welcome, both. Huwaida, describe why you were there and what the situation is and why they deported you.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Sure. Well, we were in touch with Bahrain human rights activists and knew of the situation on the ground and also were getting reports of journalists and human rights organization representatives being denied entry into the country in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the Bahrain revolution. And this caused great alarm, that the government was planning to escalate its oppression of the people. And together with Bahraini human rights activists, we decided to try to provide independent monitors. And that’s how Witness Bahrain was launched.
We coordinated with some known human rights activists that have had experience in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Pakistan and in other regions, and we went. We did not announce the initiative until we were in the country, knowing that they would probably stop us. But that being said, we did not, in any way, forge or lie our way in. But once we got in and we announced ourselves—we announced ourselves on Friday to alert the government that we are watching in the hope that they would lessen their violence against demonstrators, and we were—two of us were arrested on Saturday and then deported almost immediately. And I believe they’re looking for the rest.
AMY GOODMAN: Radhika, your experience there and why you were protesting?
RADHIKA SAINATH: Well, you know, what I experienced there was outrageous. And I just want to say, as an American, if I was treated in such a way, we can only imagine how Bahraini human rights activists are treated. And, you know, as Huwaida said, we came to both support Bahraini democracy activists in their struggle for human rights and equality, but also to monitor and document the police and the Bahraini government’s treatment of peacful protesters. And that’s what we were doing on Saturday when the Bahraini authorities arrested us and initiated deportation proceedings.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Bahraini security forces killed dozens of protesters who demonstrated at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout. Now Bahrain has hired former Miami and Philadelphia police chief John Timoney to train its police forces ahead of the anniversary of the demonstrations. Democracy Now! covered Timoney’s militarized crowd control strategy, known as the "Miami Model," around the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit meeting in Miami in 2003, when police used concussion grenades, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, baton charges to disperse protesters. Timoney spoke to NPR last month about his new consulting job in Bahrain. Host Robert Siegel asked if it’s acknowledged in Bahrain that people have the right to have a protest.
JOHN TIMONEY: Well, there’s a couple of issues here. On a daily basis, you absolutely have the right to protest, to demonstrate. Here’s where the problem comes in. It’s a small city.
ROBERT SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.
JOHN TIMONEY: It reminds me more of Lower Manhattan than the rest of Manhattan, where you’ve got these narrow streets. And clearly, if you have unauthorized protests that are happening during the daytime, I mean, the traffic comes to a standstill. But you know, when you saw Occupy Wall Street, when people begin to engage in unauthorized marches that begin to cripple traffic and emergency vehicles to the rest of the city—you know, there’s a reason why you have to go to the police department. It’s not that they say yea or nay regarding your right to speech, but can this be handled that it doesn’t dramatically and drastically impact the rest of society?
AMY GOODMAN: Radhika Sainath, your response to Timoney?
RADHIKA SAINATH: I mean, I think that it’s completely outrageous, the United States’ support for the Bahraini regime militarily. And it’s really important that the U.S., that Barack Obama not find a way to support the military regime by this aid package. I do believe that it is—it does show support. And the Bahrainis know it. And when we were talking to human rights activists, repeatedly, the first thing they mention is, "Why is the United States supporting the Bahraini police with tear gas and with weapons? You know, we want basic freedoms such as the ones that you have in the United States. And, you know, why is your government not acknowledging that?"
AMY GOODMAN: Huwaida Arraf?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: And I want to also make a comment on the role of the U.S., the U.S. administration. When we were in detention, the representative of the U.S. embassy did come visit us. And one thing that the police forces wanted to do is to take away all of our equipment, and they did, by force. But the American embassy representative was relaying that to us, in that they have a right to take away our equipment.
And I said to her, "Well, our footage, we are documenting—we did interviews with people that had been tortured, with leaders of the pro-democracy movement, and I am very worried that this footage and this documentation is going to be used to target these activists. And you know what a horrible human rights record the Bahrain administration has. So I’m asking you, I’m asking the American government, to do something to make sure that the Bahraini government will not use the equipment and the material that they confiscate from me in order to target human rights activists." And the response was, "Well, we’ll put your request through." And then there was nothing. And actually. the representative said, "Well" — she said to me, "Well, you took that chance, you know, with filming these things."
And so, I’m really horrified because, you know, the U.S. government talks about a respect for human rights and democracy, and yet they wouldn’t do something basic as take some kind of measure to make sure that what the government was going to take from us from force wouldn’t be used to target and possibly torture more democracy activists.
RADHIKA SAINATH: And just to add to that, they confiscated both of our laptops, Huwaida’s video camera, digital camera, iPad—
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Phones.
RADHIKA SAINATH: —cell phones, BlackBerry—everything that we have. And it’s still in Bahraini custody, and they’ve refused to turn it over. And, you know, some of that equipment has photographs of human rights activists, phone numbers, other things. And we’re very concerned about how that’s going to be used by the government of Bahrain.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you handcuffed on the flight back?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: We were.
AMY GOODMAN: On the flight back here?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: On the flight from Bahrain to London. We came via London. We were both put in very tight hard plastic cuffs. We were cuffed behind our back, so we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t eat, drink or go to the restroom.
AMY GOODMAN: How long was the flight?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: It was a little over seven hours.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the U.S. government protest what their ally was doing, that they had just made a major weapons deal with?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: No, we haven’t heard a bit of protest yet. And we’re hoping and we’re hoping that people that hear this, and that even though we’ve been deported and we’re upset that we can’t be present in Bahrain, that maybe being here in the United States, we can do something to raise people’s consciousness about what’s happening and to have them protest the administration’s support of the Bahraini government.
AMY GOODMAN: What else did the ambassador tell you about the film that they took?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Well, it was the deputy. It was—
RADHIKA SAINATH: It was the vice consul.
HUWAIDA ARRAF: —the vice consul that came to see us. Nothing. Basically, she just asked if—she just came to see if—asked if we had been mistreated and then to convey that the Bahraini government, what they’re doing is very typical and that they have a right to confiscate all of our equipment.
AMY GOODMAN: Huwaida, you’re very well known for your activism in the Occupied Territories, in the International Solidarity Movement, the Free Gaza Movement. How does this compare or relate and connect?
HUWAIDA ARRAF: Well, I think that it is an obligation for people—I feel an obligation—to support people that are fighting injustice all around the world. And in the same way that I’m resisting the Israeli occupation and supporting Palestinian freedom, supporting freedom protesters in Cairo, in Egypt, in Syria, in Bahrain, it’s all part of that—the Occupy Wall Street movement. I mean, we are all fighting for basic freedom, democracy, human rights. And the idea for Witness Bahrain actually came from our experiences with the International Solidarity Movement, when we called on people from around the world to come to the occupied Palestinian territories and to stand with Palestinians that are being brutalized, brutally suppressed by the Israeli government, so that they can witness, document, and hopefully, with their presence, lessen the violence of the Israeli government. We thought that the same might work in Bahrain.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Radhika Sainath and Huwaida Arraf are lawyers, human rights activists, part of the Witness Bahrain initiative. They were deported last night back to the United States after protesting in Bahrain on this first anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain.