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But nobody knows about Bahrain…

Tetiana Bilobrova

On the 23rd of March in the House of Cinema as part of the 11th International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival DOCUDAYS UA film of French director Stéphanie Lamorré «Bahrain – The Forbidden Country» was shown. The film covers the events of the Arab spring of 2011 that swept across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Algeria and many other countries, including Bahrain. And it is no coincidence that the film shown in the category DOCU/RIOT, as the focus – the heroic resistance of the civilian population against the dictatorship of the royal family. In an effort to achieve greater political freedoms, respect for basic human and civil rights, starting from February 2011 civilians come to the protest every day.  However, as correctly noted by the author of the film, the world did not notice the revolt of Bahrain residents. Their country, being rich and developed ally of the West, every day becomes more and more closed for the journalists (especially foreign), who are severely persecuted and are not given any opportunity to highlight the local events. The next day after the film, which caused a lot of emotions, impressions and comments of the audience, we continued the conversation with Stéphanie.


-        I’ve felt that all the audience was embarrassed by your film. Maybe, because the film was from the one side horrible and from the other side – impressive. I’ve seen a lot of parallels between Bahrain and our country. But what prompted you? Why did you choose this topic and this country exactly?

-        Because nobody talked about Bahrain. So I wanted to see what was going on there. Actually when I went there, I didn’t think it was that much, because like everybody, I didn’t know much about Bahrain. I went there, expecting nothing special. Just I wanted to see the situation. And soon as I arrived, the same day it was just a big slap in my face actually. Than, for sure, I stayed because it’s an amazing situation. I mean an amazing people.

-        How much time did you spend there?

-        I spent only five weeks. It’s not usual for me to stay so short. But actually because the government and the royal family were hunting me, looking for me, they didn’t allow me to stay in the country. When I arrived, they arrested me. Finally after 10 hours they let me go for 72 hours. Basically they were looking for me, because they didn’t want me to know, they are killing people.

-        Yes, you told that journalists cannot write about these events and that’s why people abroad do not know about Bahrain…

-        Yes, because it’s an island. It’s very easy for the government to control who is entering this country. So basically everybody gets to the airport as the only gate to it. The control is very strict in everything. So as soon as they have any doubt, they expose people and they don’t let them in.

-        What is your opinion? How the revolution in Bahrain differs from the other Arabic countries revolutions?

-        I think it is basically the same. It’s about rights.  For me the only difference is the size of the country. Bahrain is a very small country, compared to Egypt, for example. A big difference is that in Egypt if you compare people going to Tahrir square, it was maximum 10% of the population protesting. In Bahrain it is 80% of the population, protesting against the regime. In Bahrain it was a very big mobilization against the regime. But at the very beginning they didn’t ask to the royal family to get down. It was just about more rights and the constitution. The demonstrations were very simple, peaceful. Later it became something different because they started to kill people. And actually everybody was really shocked there. Then the king went on TV, saying: “Oh, I’m so sorry”. But people were like: “Well, we can’t accept”. Since that time people do not trust anymore to the king. And they don’t have any hope. Now they protest against Constitution because there is no freedom, no human rights, no speech freedom, and no gathering freedom. There are a lot of political prisoners in Bahrain.

-        They strive for their human rights.

-        Yeah exactly, for human right and freedom because people are not free. It’s like any dictatorship. If you don’t say anything – okay. If you start to talk and to do something different, they’ll just arrest you or kill you.

-        The title of your film “Bahrain: forbidden country”. How did you find this title for you? What do you mean by the forbidden in your film?

-        Actually I didn’t decide the title, I had another one. I choose a sentence of one of the character. But the channel didn’t really like it. For them it was too much or, I think, something people will not understand. So they wanted the title anyone can understand. And I think they choose “forbidden”, because you are not allowed to get in, or it was very restrictive.

-        And what was your own title?

-        “The era of injustice will end”. Well actually it’s a sentence from Nafisa, one of the characters. She told me like: “One day we will win …” For me it was a good title for the movie like also to give them hope. The film is about hope and things that will change. We will succeed.

-        People really believe.

-        Yes, for sure they don’t give up. They don’t want to give up at all. It’s like for them, too many people died to say now: “Ok, let’s sit like it was”. They really want to see the change.

-        Did they see the events in Ukraine?

-        Yes, watching on TV. They are following Iranian channel “Press TV” (not the public channel in Bahrain), talking about anything around the world. Ukraine is big news. I mean everybody is talking about Ukraine. They support you since the very beginning and you have common finds.

-        There are a lot of parallels between Bahrain and Ukraine as it is shown in the film: bloody killings of innocent people, beaten journalists, activists kidnapping, injustice in the courts, unjustified police brutality. In addition, in Bahrain there are foreigners in the ranks of the police. They do not worry about the fate of local population.

-        They don’t care about killing Bahraini people because they are not Bahraini. At the beginning the police was Bahraini, but then step by step the police changed the policeman, to be sure they will not stop to kill people.

-        Does police understand that once they will move to the side of the people?

-        First of all, the police in Bahrain are not so big but that’s why they dismiss them and now those ex-policemen are civilian people running in the streets. I mean, not all of them but still. I think it’s also hard for them to believe in the possibility of such a move. It happened in Syria; again I think they dismiss a people from the big killing. For sure it was too much for the policemen to kill people. Zeynab’s telling the story with her father talked to the Bahraini policeman: “You can understand me we are brothers”.

-        What was the reaction of the international community for the situation in Bahrain?

-        They look like blind. They don’t want to hear about it much. Even in France, where I tried to attract attention. It is only NGO and civilian, who react to this movie, because official people didn’t react after screening.  Right after my screening they invited Bahrain as special guest for human rights event in Paris. How can you do that? I was so shocked. The all event was paid by the French company “Simon” − a very big company in France, having a lot of business with Bahrain. So they totally sponsorized the event in Paris.

-        What kind of event was that?

-        It was a big event on human right in front of the biggest church in Paris – Notre Dame de Paris. Many people gathered to talk about human rights. Officials from Bahrain were a special guest … Ok, you can invite people from Bahrain like opposition, but not the Royal family… I think one of the daughters of the King was there. It was not like to talk about human rights in Bahrain.

-        And what about United Nations?

-        Well, it’s the same. They do not do anything. Nobody does anything in Bahrain.

-        And what about non-government organizations? What do they do?

-        They try to do stop the government’s pressure for sure, also provide humanitarian help, and try to motivate people. But it is very hard, because, again, it’s about government. Government doesn’t do anything. Some people mobilized to help Bahraini. But it’s not enough. The point is we need to reach the official level, like the government. And Sarkozy was not just the President Sarkozy − he was a private friend of the King.

-        The situation in Ukraine and Bahrain is different, although we ask the international community to support equally.

-        I’ve seen in Ukraine more supported than in Bahrain. Everything we hear in news is about Ukraine. Even for today they cancelled G-8 in Sochi. I think they don’t want war with Russia. Russia is so big, powerful and crazy!

-        You mean Europe is afraid or war with Russia?

-        Yes, for sure we are afraid! We are so small! The only one, who could prevent fight, would be America, the one undefeated. But nobody wants war, even America. Obama a few months ago said about Syria: “Ok, if I had the proof, that people are using chemical weapon that would be a limit”. But I know, they didn’t do anything, because Russia and China are supporting Syria. This is like the second time America says: “Hey! Don’t do that!” And Russia: “F*** you! I don’t care. I do what I want!” So it’s like game. No, exactly the game, but they are like playing chess: “I do that, so you do that”. But, they are like pushing the limits. It’s like business.

-        Like competition and business on the political level

-        But at the end the human being, human lives…

-        Do you agree with me that the international community will not help Ukraine? Only Ukrainian people can help themselves.

-        I think the politicians want to help. What does it mean also if they don’t react? It means any President all around the world can say: “Hey, this part of the territory is my territory” It is like you cannot allow that, it’s like diplomacy. I think they’ll take some economical pressure.

-        But they still afraid…

-        They still afraid, but again I think Russia doesn’t really want war against America. I mean it doesn’t make sense. So I think in certain way Putin will not go too far. I hope so. I really think Western government and America will help Ukraine. Because it is really in their interest.

-        But it will take time. What has changed since people were killed? Nothing has changed. The international community has failed to take any effective measures.

-        But you know, they can’t send now troops here in Ukraine. The only thing they can do is economical and diplomatic pressure. I think that again it’s political. The only thing they can do is like we did in South Africa (an embargo during years and years), or Libya (it was the same).

-        And now they buy oil in Iran, but not in Russia.

-        Yeah.

-        One of the most interesting things in the film is the role of women in this movement. Why there are so many women act in riot?

-        Because basically a lot of men had been arrested and since the beginning that women have been very involved. Women in Bahrain are very involved in the life of the country. They are not just stupid women waiting at home.

-        It differs very much of another Muslim country this way…

-        Yes, especially woman wearing niqab, because when you go there, all the women are wearing niqab, like in the Saudi … So your first impression is like: “Wow!” But it doesn’t mean that like in Saudi Arabia they don’t have a word to say. They aren’t dominated. In Bahrain it’s not like that at all! Men and women are really equal and I’ve never seen a man doing something only because you are a women. Men do respect women. Women do all what they want. They are totally free. They are well educated. And they are clever, they think a lot, and they talk a lot. It’s cultural. Actually in some countries women stay at home in the kitchen, but then there is a revolution and they go outside. But I think that in Bahrain even before the revolution women were not specially in the kitchen − they were doctors, teachers, and politicians. When the revolution started, that was a normal thing that they went to sit on the Pearl Square.

-        And according to your estimates, what is the percentage of women in this movement?

-        50%.

-        How many people have disappeared?

-        Since the beginning it’s not clear, but about 300 per year. It’s not like Syria for sure ( 100 person per day), it’s like 1 or 2 person each week which is a lot for such a small country. Everybody is much related, you almost now each other. Everybody has a cousin. You know his cousin and he knows somebody, he knows you. Each time someone dies, for sure it’s not a big event, compared with the other countries, but even one dead people per week… You know what I mean? People don’t have to die because they are living in a dictatorship…

-        How do you think, what these people (in Bahrain) would like to say to the world? What would be their appeal?

-        “Help us!” − this is the appeal. You know what they are telling me all the time? It’s like: “Please tell people in the world what is happening here. Let them know about our situation. They expect that at least from civilian, because this will pressure the government.

-        And what is the situation at the moment?

-        The same. Nothing has changed. Actually every day at 3 p.m. they go to the streets. It’s the same. It only has worsened since the time I was there.

-        And what about your friends? Do some of them still remain in prison?

-        It’s just the decision of the government to let them go. Because, for example, people are protesting to let Zeynab go out. But the government does what he wants. Zeynab’s father was in jail and started a hunger strike. He was relieved dying in prison. But he survived, because they had a very big support from outside. They kept him life with perfusion. Thus they didn’t let him go. He wanted to die. They didn’t let him go, because again Bahrain wants to keep nice image like freedom country. It’s a bit like Dubai, Saudi Arabia. They go to Bahrain to have a drink or something like that.  Bahrain organizes “Formula-1” races. They want to show “We are nice. We are good in business, sport”.

-        Today, Bahrain found himself between three fires. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia, which has put its military contingent from the beginning of the riots in Manama? On the other - Iran, which says its Bahrain illegally occupied territories. And the third part - the United States, whose operational base of the 5th Navy is in the territory of Bahrain. In the film you showed smoke bombs, made in the USA, although the inscription of the name and composition of the poison erased. In fact, the United States supplied the following arms.

-        Definitely, but I think France does the same and lot of governments does the same. You officially they say: “No, we are nice…”, but weapon markets are so huge (I mean why Russia is supporting Syria). I think the more countries are talking about Bahrain, the better it is for them. But nobody knows about Bahrain…

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