As Bahrain is torn apart by protests and brutal government repression, Dateline gains access to investigatea series ofmysterious deaths and disappearances.
Sunday, April 3, 2011 - 20:32

Video journalist Yaara Bou Melhem had difficulty even getting into Bahrain to report for Dateline, and what she eventually found there was a regime determined to keep protesters quiet and out of the media.
But she sets about investigating the country's dark secret of disappearances and deaths, including the backlash against the killing of a young father of two, Hani Jumah, in mysterious circumstances.

And Yaara hears of the persecution and fear of those wanting to speak out, but who face violent attacks for standing up for democracy, even in the hospitals where they're sent for treatment.

This season of Dateline has already gained unprecedented access to Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Now, watch Bahrain's story.

WATCH - Click to view Yaara's report.

INTERACTIVE - Click through our country-by-country interactive guide to the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.

WORLD NEWS AUSTRALIA - Get the latest SBS news coverage of the unrest in the Arab world.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH - Read the Human Rights Watch report into the death of Hani Jumah, featured in Yaara's report.

BEHIND THE SCENES - Yaara talks about the process of filming a story in Arabic, then translating and subtitling it, for this week's behind the scenes feature.

UN MEDIA PEACE AWARD - Yaara won a UN Australia Media Peace Award in October 2011 for this report.

WALKLEY AWARD - And in November 2011, Yaara won a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism for this story.


Photo (funeral protest): AAP


You can also click here to see all of Dateline's stories on the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.



Compared to the reporting from Egypt or the continuing coverage of the battle for Libya, Dateline has heard very little about what is happening in the Gulf state of Bahrain. But it has not been spared the turmoil that has beset the region in recent months. Anti-government activists there have been brutally attacked by government security forces and the crackdown continues. Dateline's Yaara Bou Melhem has tried to enter Bahrain two weeks ago. She was turned back at the airport just as demonstrators were being gassed and fired upon. But Yaara persisted and has managed to enter the country on her second attempt. Here's her investigation.

REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem

CROWD (Translation): The people want to bring the regime down! Down with Hamad!

On the edge of the capital, Manama, thousands gather for the funeral of a young man. Hani Jumah was 32 years old and the father of two children.

CROWD (Translation): With our soul, with our blood we defend you, Bahrain!

It's a scene repeated over and over in Bahrain, where there are more and more killings, more and more funerals, as the nation is torn by protests and a brutal government crackdown. I wanted to find out just what happened to the man whose death has brought so many on to the streets, but it's difficult moving freely here.

REPORTER: We're just going through another checkpoint now.

I find my way to this empty building on the outskirts of the city.

TIRANA HASSAN, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: So this is the building that Hani Jumah's body was found in. He was pursued by riot police as they were conducting a sweep through the neighbourhood.

Tirana Hassan, an Australian, is from Human Rights Watch's emergency response unit.

TIRANA HASSAN: Essentially they found him lying unconscious where he had been bleeding out for about two hours.

It wasn't easy to capture these images. Even though I have permission to work as a journalist here, it's clear that there are some stories Bahrain doesn't want the world to see.

TIRANA HASSAN: You can see from the nature of the blood here that there was an enormous amount of blood loss and when we came, we found fragments of his kneecap, we also found one of his teeth.

Tirana Hassan says that Jumah wasn't even taking part in the anti-government protests when he was attacked - he was simply caught up in a police sweep when he went outside his home after hearing calls for help.

TIRANA HASSAN: What we found here is different to a number of the other investigations we've done. This was the scene of something calculated and cruel and carried out by riot police.

Hani Jumah was then taken to Bahrain's central hospital and stabilised, but doctors told Human Rights Watch that security officials came looking for him. They found him in a hospital bed and took him away.

TIRANA HASSAN: His body turned up approximately four days later and the family was just told to come and collect the body.

CROWD (Translation): The martyr has earned and attained glory and honour.

The mourners at Hani Jumah's funeral believe what happened to him could happen to any of them.

CROWD (Translation): The people want to bring the regime down!

And funerals like this can quickly turn into anti-government protests, as this one has, with demonstrations now officially banned in the city centre.

CROWD (Translation): Gulf Shield Force;. Out! Bahrain is free, free!

The uprising in Bahrain began in mid-February, Pearl Square in the city centre became like Cairo's Tahrir Square - the focal point of demonstrations. The government called for back-up from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - then Bahraini police turned their guns on the protesters - many civilians were killed. At the height of the violence, when medical help was critical, even hospitals came under attack by the military.

This secretly filmed footage appears to show a male nurse being dragged behind bushes and bashed outside Bahrain's central Salimaniya Hospital - even doctors were targeted, like this woman, who wanted to speak to me but was too afraid to show her face on camera.

DOCTOR: Every doctor that speaks out in the media has been arrested.

She was waiting for an influx of seriously injured protesters when the riot police came to visit.

DOCTOR: We looked through our windows and we saw vehicles, police, riot police vehicles, and riot police just walking around the gates and around the entrances of the Salimaniya Hospital. And then they occupied all the entrances and exits of the Salimaniya, not allowing anybody, whether a doctor or a patient, to come in or go out. Male staff nurse were dragged to the backside parking and they were beaten so hard by the riot police till they were lying on the ground and they couldn't move. They were just lying on the ground.

REPORTER: What's the situation now for Salimaniya Hospital?

DOCTOR: It's like a prison now - it's turned like a prison, nobody can come in or out unless going through several checkpoints. The administration now is military.

I wanted to find out more about what happened there and the doctor offered to take me to a man now in hiding. So we're just going to the house of someone who was a patient at Salimaniya Hospital and he's going to tell us what it was like to be there. This man, who I'll call Ali, was also too afraid to be filmed. He had been injured by a shotgun blas

REPORTER: What happened in Salimaniya?

ALI (Translation): Torture is going on, there is torture every night and beatings every night. They come and mock us, swearing - things like that.

Ali told me that he and other patients had been forcibly removed from the hospital and were taken to a police station where the beatings continued.

ALI (Translation): We went down in the lift then through a long corridor during which we were beaten. They wanted us to walk fast but we could not - they kept making threats there - any nurse who would even look at us; "œDon't look! Move away from there! Move!" I didn't know where they'd send us - kill us, jail us, send us home - I didn't know.

We were beaten - they were telling us that they would send us to Iran "œYou ruined the country" and so on.

TIRANA HASSAN: The access to health services to the injured people is a guarantee and people need to have the right to be able to access those. These are not quasi detention centres where people can be held incommunicado. Health facilities need to be places which are protected and that medical professionals, including paramedics and ambulances, can operate freely.

As news of such atrocities leaked out, the government called a press conference, claiming security forces had actually liberated the hospital.

SHEIKH KHALID AL KHALIFA, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Blocking hospitals? Who blocked the hospitals? It's not the government or the army. The army opened the hospital of Salimaniya because we have clear evidence, and we have many cases to show, and it can be provided to you, how people were denied access to Salimaniya Hospital and how Salimaniya Hospital became really a source of misinformation and also of - in many cases - violence against nurses, doctors and patients. So actually the hospital was open and liberated for all to use it.

NABEEL RAJAB, BAHRAIN HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE: And then shooting people, killing people, beating people to death.

But this man believes none of what the government is saying.

NABEEL RAJAB: I opened the door and they pushed me and they said, "Where is your bedroom? Where is your bedroom?" and they were holding me from my shirt, pulling me from my shirt. And they went - and pulling me inside, going up to my bedroom.

Two weeks ago, Nabeel Rajab was visited by 25 masked men with guns. They were police, military and thugs, outraged over his work as a human rights activist.

NABEEL RAJAB: I mean, while I was here, in front of my children, they were insulting me, saying all these sectarian statements and speech and accusations and telling me that you have to prepare yourself, we're going to rape you now.

Nabeel was bashed and interrogated for three hours before being released. He says he considers himself lucky.

NABEEL RAJAB: We have more than 100 people missing. We don't know if they're dead or alive. We have a lot of people got arrested, many political and human rights figures, human rights defenders are in detention now.

Nabeel questions what role the presence of a major US naval base here has in the way the West has reacted to the violence.

NABEEL RAJAB: It is sad to see that, that their interests and their relationship with those of repressive regime has more importance than the life and the human rights of the people of this country.

All over town, I find stories of abuse and fear.

ZEINAB AL KHAWAJE, DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: She's saying that, um, she doesn't feel safe here to talk.

Democracy activist Zeinab Al Khawaje introduces me to her aunt, Fatima, whose husband has now gone missing.

ZEINAB AL KHAWAJE: If you try not to get, like, the plate numbers or the house so that they don't get in trouble. OK?

Fatima tells me how her children had been forced to give up their father at gunpoint.

FATIMA AL KHAWAJE (Translation): About 50 soldiers entered the house. They were all masked, only their eyes visible. They put guns to their heads and told them "œIf you don't say where the men here are we will shoot you." He's only a child - he told them "œDad is upstairs." They went there and took him.

Fatima says she was then bashed and sexually assaulted.

FATIMA AL KHAWAJE (Translation): He turned the lights off - there were five men -I was feeling so terrified, I was scared. More than being scared of this severe and brutal beating, I was scared for my honour - I didn't want my headscarf to be removed. He was saying all these obscene and dirty words, even the gestures... I can't describe what he did to me. He would put his genitals in my face.

One week on from the raid and still it's clearly left its mark. Fatima has still not heard from her husband, and she fears she may never see him again.

ZEINAB AL KHAWAJE (Translation): It's okay aunty.

TIRANA HASSAN: There needs to be an investigation into those that have been disappeared. Information needs to be made available on where people are and what charges, if any, they are being detained.

Bahrain's minister for foreign affairs says investigations are already under way, but he's not referring to his security forces, only to activists who've been locked up.

SHEIKH KHALID AL KHALIFA: I don't want to interfere with the course of justice. They will be tried before the courts and we will see the evidence against them. Let's not affect the course of the justice now and let's wait to see what the court says, please.

And he insists that protests here have nothing to do with anti-government sentiment, but are the result of tensions between the majority Shias and Sunnis.

NABEEL RAJAB: They tried to push the situation to a sectarian way so that they present it as a Shia-Sunni dispute. It's not a dispute. People want legitimate rights. Yes, the majority of people protesting, they are Shias, because they're more marginalised, they are more discriminated against. But it doesn't mean that the Sunnis are living in beautiful heaven.

The next day, security around town is as tight as ever.

REPORTER: I'll just put my camera down.

Many of the highways are empty, with people preferring to stay in the relative safety of their homes. I try to reconnect with Zeinab as her aunt continues the search for her husband. But, again, I'm blocked.

The military would not let us through - we tried to get Zeinab through as well and they kept asking questions about her ID so we thought it would be safer for her to go. We're just approaching another checkpoint now.

That night, I hear that another protest has started up and I set off in search of it. The streets appear to be deserted. Eventually I find it, a candle-lit vigil in the suburbs, they know how dangerous this is, that police could come here at any time, but the urge for reform pushes them on. They tell me they'll be back again tomorrow night and the night after that and the night after that too.

MARK DAVIS: Yaara Bou Melhem reporting there and Human Rights Watch has now completed an update into the death of Hani Jumah. You can find their link on our website, plus there's an interactive guide to all of the unrest in the Middle East and in a special behind-the-scenes report, our correspondent looks at the difficulties of working in different languages with the team that translates our stories here at SBS.









Micah mcgown




Original Music composed by


3rd April 2011