Unknown to me, there was a lot of activity taking place in Bahrain behind the scenes in a bid to end the unrest. The Crown Prince had become involved and was trying to broker an agreement and began by allowing the protesters back to Pearl Roundabout.
On Saturday February 19th I was still keenly watching what was happening around our complex, moving between the car park and our apartment windows, trying to see if anything was happening but the military seemed relaxed and staying in their positions, securing the roundabout. Messages on Facebook indicated that their presence would be withdrawn but from my vantage point it looked to me that they would be there for some time. Nothing seemed to be happening and my wife and I managed to drive away from the area for some much needed distraction of badminton (for my wife) and snooker (for me) at the excellent British Club, a short drive away but once inside a million miles from what we had witnessed.
We returned safely and without any problems to our apartment later in the afternoon and the first thing we did was to check the situation and for me, to report to others what was happening, which was nothing. Once again it was my wife who alerted me to something important happening downstairs after she went down later to check. She rushed into the apartment to tell me that the army had left and the police were shooting protesters again! I felt annoyed again (mainly for missing out on seeing the army leave, which I had felt was not going to happen and also for the fact that my wife got to see it before I did!) and once again raced downstairs with my camcorder to hopefully view the important events. I could not understand why the army would leave the area and yet the police would remain and be shooting the protesters.
Sure enough, when the elevator doors opened and we rushed to the edge of the car park walls we could see jubilant protesters with Bahrain flags running around the grassed area of the roundabout, stopping to bend down and pray, hugging each other, clapping, chanting and anything else they could think of. I saw no police and was looking quizzically at my wife whilst filming when once again the loud bangs associated with them were heard. A group of white-helmeted police had sprung out from behind the garden on one side of the roundabout and was trying to chase away the celebrators (they weren’t protesting) and had managed to grab a few of them. I was puzzled at the time but one must remember that the police fall under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister who, it was later revealed, was not in favour of the roundabout being given back to the people. Just at that very point one of the men had broken away from the police and was running away. One policeman simply raised his shotgun and calmly shot him in the back. The man disappeared behind a tree so we could not see what had happened to him, but he was definitely not shot with tear gas or a sound bomb. I captured it all on video and felt that the whole exercise was simply an elaborate trap. Remove the army, allow the people back and then the police move in and cut them down. I was prepared to record the whole thing and show it to the world but just then a man who I had never seen before came up to me and asked me to stop filming. He was well-dressed and held a walkie-talkie. I was quite upset by seeing an unarmed man shot in the back and very angry that it was allowed to happen. More to the point, what was wrong with filming it? Surely I had a right to do so and I managed to tell this to the man, as well as quite a few words beginning with “f”. He appeared quite shocked by my outburst (as was my wife) and he immediately spoke Arabic into his walkie-talkie and hurried away. I took that as my cue to leave and, after a quick look at the roundabout (the police were now leaving, being taunted by the protesters as they did so) we went to the relative safety of our apartment.
I was quite worried inside the apartment and made sure the door was securely locked. My students had warned me earlier about being arrested and told me that the police in Bahrain were nothing like the police in Australia (and that’s saying something!) and some even advised me to leave our apartment. I knew that the man with the walkie-talkie had reported me to someone and sure enough there were men’s voices outside our door followed by the inevitable loud knock. I must admit that they did well to locate our apartment so quickly but I refused to answer the door. I had done nothing wrong (except some swearing) and they could knock all day for all I cared. The only thing that concerned me was if they decided to break down the door as our apartment belonged to a very nice couple who lived close by in Saudi Arabia. Eventually the knocking stopped and the voices left our floor. My wife and I were whispering about what we should do when my phone rang and it was our landlord calling! She told me that I was in big trouble and I needed to go and see the security men immediately. She advised me not to be silly about it and also told me that Bahraini prisons were not nice places to be (how I agree with her now!).
My wife and I ventured downstairs to find the walkie-talkie man and eventually saw him in the carpark talking to two other men. We walked up to them and I immediately apologised to the walkie-talkie man before the largest of the men introduced himself as the “security manager for the apartment complex”. I had never seen any of the three men before in the 14 months that I had been living there. The security manager told me that I had put him in a very difficult position by filming the protests because he was under orders from the Bahrain Ministry of Interior (responsible for law enforcement and public safety in Bahrain) not to allow any resident from the apartments to document anything taking place around us. He said that if it was discovered that a lot of filming had taken place he had the right to go through every apartment searching for cameras and inspecting computers, etc – and he did not want to do that. He said the best thing I could do was to delete all the film I had taken. I told him that I had already uploaded it all to YouTube and Mr. Walkie-Talkie said, “Oh no”. The security manager then told me that I needed to assure him that I would stop videotaping. “We know you work for the Polytechnic as an English teacher, we know your CPR (Civil Personal Record) number, we know that is your car over there, we know everything about you”, he said. I know he was trying to intimidate me and that most of this information would have been given to him by my landlady and the guy who operates the boom gate on the car park but I had no wish to make things any worse and so I agreed to delete my videos and not to take any more.
At the time I did not think much about it but I am now convinced that the three men I spoke to were all connected to the Ministry of Interior. As I mentioned, I had never seen them nor heard anything from them before and I only ever saw the third member of the trio again after this day. I am sure that my footage was either noticed by the Ministry staff or was referred to it and the men were sent to the apartment towers to put a stop to it. I ask again, why was there a ban on it if there was something the government did not want others to see?
Mr. Walkie-talkie accompanied my wife and I back to our apartment and he watched as I sat at the dining table and deleted all the video I had downloaded onto my computer and then did the same in front of him with my camcorder. He asked if I had any other film stored anywhere else, to which I said “no” and then I offered to give him my camcorder to prove I would stop filming. He took it and said I could collect it from him, probably in a few weeks. I must say, he was quite polite the whole time he was with us and my wife indeed was able to get our camcorder back.
I was relieved to be out of the “hot seat” at our apartment complex but a little disappointed that I could no longer help spread the truth if any further outbreaks of brutality were to occur at the roundabout. I still monitored the situation around us closely and even visited the proceedings and festivities outside to see for myself just how peaceful it was. My “reporting” days were over but little did I realise that my real problems were only just beginning.