Journalists, too, are victims of Bahrain's crackdown

MANAMA, Bahrain — Haider Mohamed al Noaimi was barefoot and in his pajamas when a posse of about 30 masked security personnel came for him in the middle of the night, and that's how he went to prison.

In Bahrain's government-declared state of emergency, his story says much about human rights here.

Noaimi, 26, was employed as a journalist on the sole opposition daily, Al Wasat, a voice that was respected however much it was out of synch with the Sunni minority, which dominates this island kingdom.

An avid blogger, he was known as a critic of the Shiite opposition and an advocate for resolving differences between Sunnis and Shiites by dialogue.

The security personnel who broke through the main gate of the building and smashed down the front and back doors of Noaimi's apartment also beat the members of Noaimi's extended family.

"They beat all of us," said his sister-in-law, Mariam Abuidrees, 28. "They pointed a gun at my mother's chest. They took all our laptops, phones and my camera. They took his cameras and computer. They even broke the Internet router. "

The security personnel, dressed in casual clothes, called the women "bitches" and demanded that the family open the safe. Some 4,000 Bahraini dinars, about $10,600 in U.S. currency, is now missing.

One of the men, Saeed Yousuf, Noaimi's brother-in-law, is Sunni, and the security men "beat him up badly," charging he was "keeping Shiites in his house," Mariam said.

The security men were a mix of nationalities. Bahrain's Sunni minority regime recruits foreigners to staff its security services as a way to avoid putting guns in the hands of its majority Shiites.

"One was from Yemen, and danced for us," Noaimi's wife, Sajeda, 27, said. Another was from Syria. "He broke my eldest sister's bed," she said.

For days, Noaimi's wife, sister and sister-in-law went from one security agency to another — the police, the national intelligence service, the criminal investigative division among them — trying to find out who was holding Noaimi and on what charges.

Finally, days later, he called them on a cellphone belonging to one of the security men. He didn't know where he was or what charges, if any, were being placed against him, Sajeda said. "He said his eyes were covered."

Haider's employer was targeted earlier in the crackdown. On March 15, the day martial law was declared, armed masked men attacked Al Wasat's printing presses. They forced its editor, Mansoor Aljamri, to quit his post, and then charged him with deliberately falsifying news about the police crackdown. He goes on trial on May 18 along with three other senior staff, and the charges could carry a one-year prison sentence.

Last week, the board of the paper met and decided it would shut down. On the eve of World Press Freedom Day last week, it announced it will quit publishing Monday, putting more than 200 employees out of work.

Asked why the country had arrested a newspaper columnist and hauled him to prison in his pajamas, Bahrain's justice minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al Khalifa, claimed ignorance and said he'd look into it.

Asked about the closing of Al Wasat, Sheikh Khalid said he was "astonished" at the news.


Brutal crackdowns chill the 'Arab Spring'

'Arab spring' drives wedge between U.S., Saudi Arabia

Arab leaders turn to deadly force to crush rebellions

Follow McClatchy on Twitter.