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Wife of a Former World Champion Speaks Out in Bahrain: ‘He Was Arrested for Buying Cigarettes and Milk’

A man paints a picture in support of the detainees in Bahrain during a rally in Mogsha in April 2013. Photograph by bahrain14feb bilad. Copyright: Demotix

A man paints a picture in support of the detainees in Bahrain during a rally in Mogsha in April 2013. Photograph by bahrain14feb bilad. Copyright: Demotix

For one young mother from Bahrain, the previous four years have been one long nightmare with no end in sight. One day, her husband ventured off to buy cigarettes and milk. The next, he is serving a 15-year sentence on what she describes as trumped up charges. And she is not alone. Hundreds of families across the country have been living this recurring nightmare since pro-democracy protests, inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, erupted in the country.

Bahrain witnessed a popular uprising in 2011, which was followed by a crackdown that is still hitting hard on the small kingdom. Four years ago, the crackdown started and a sweeping round of arrests has continued.

Bahraini activists are campaigning to stop the crackdown. A Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BCIC) that was hired by the King found that systematic torture and arbitrary arrests, along with excessive use of violence, were the norm with those arrested in the sweep. And Bahrain's justice system is still receiving strong and clear criticism from international organizations.

Among those arrested on the 16 March 2011 is the former gold medal holder in Brazilian jujitsu Mohamed Mirza. On the fourth anniversary of his arrest, Mohamed's wife, Masooma Mahdi, tweeted the story of her imprisoned husband, who went out to buy cigarettes and milk and never returned home.

She chronicles her story in 28 tweets, a story which is being repeated in countless homes across the country. Up to 4,000 people are still detained in Bahrain following the crackdown, which started on 16 March 2011, signalling the beginning of the National Safety period, which saw untold horror as the story below demonstrates.

Former gold medal holder in Brazilian jujitsu Mohamed Mirza holding his baby Jibrael before he was sentenced to 10 years in prison "for going out to be buy cigarettes and milk."

Former gold medal holder in Brazilian jujitsu Mohamed Mirza holding his baby Jibrael before he was sentenced to 15 years in prison “for going out to buy cigarettes and milk.”

This Brazilian jujitsu champion is one of many athletes targeted by the state and framed for crimes, as part of a crackdown on Shia sportsmen. Among the other athletes arrested and tortured during this period are Bahrain's top football goal scorer of all times Ala'a Hubail and his brother Mohamed Hubail.

In this video, from the Thailand championship, held in 2008, Mirza is seen in the semi-final match in which he won his title:

Mirza's ordeal started on 16 March 2011. That was the last night his wife saw him a free man. She tweets:

The last afternoon.. 16 March.

For Mrs. Mahdi, that is day to remember:

The afternoon of 16 March 2011 was the last afternoon the athlete Mohamed Mirza has spent with his family, the last afternoon he was able to sleep under the roof of his house, what followed was a chapter of a story fit to go within the chapters of Arabian nights.

The long hours that followed turned her life upside down. She tweets:

16 March was pivotal, tragic and hectic. Somewhere on that day will start a story that is still being written, a story of pain and agony.

On 27 November 2008, Mohamed Mirza got married. Nineteen months later he had his first boy Jibrael. This means that the total time he spent with his wife is two years and four months, and only eight months with his child. After that, everything changed.

On that eventful day, Mr. Mirza left his house to buy cigarettes and milk for his son.

On 16 March, Mohamed went out of his house to buy a pack of cigarettes for himself and milk for Jibrael. At a police checkpoint, time stopped for him. He was removed from the life he knew and thrown into the abyss.

What if he didn't decide to go out on that ominous day to get those cigarettes and milk? Would he have escaped the checkpoint that led him to be the victim of one of the most ambiguous cases?

Mrs. Mahdi then describes the ordeal that followed:

On 16 March 2011, Mohamed disappeared. Nobody knew where he was taken after that checkpoint. He went out to run a short errand. When it took longer than usual, his family panicked. We tried to contact everyone we could to get an answer to the bitter question:”Where is Mohamed Mirza”?

During the National Safety days, such disappearances were a common occurrence in Bahrain. She continues:

During those days, it wasn't unusual for someone to vanish. If you tried to ask about the fate of someone, you'd be faced with the insolent disregard. We tried everything. We went to every possible place that could lead us to know.. Where is Mohamed?

Meanwhile, Mohamed was being moved from one detention to the other, from one torturer to the other, leaving their marks on his body. Mohamed was destined to be paraded between detention centres, from Alkhamis detention, to Nuaim detention, to Madinat Hamad detention, to the Dry Dock, and finally to Qurain military detention before his military trial which led him to Jaaw prison. A very long trip for someone who's only crime is: he went to get cigarettes and milk at the wrong time!

Mrs. Mahdi then describes the trial saga her husband and family had to endure:

The period between March and May 2011 witnessed the theatricals of the military trials. Mohamed and several others were charged with a ridiculous offense — taking an armed trained member of the security forces as a hostage. At the second session of the theatrical military trial, Mohamed and his co-defendants were sentenced to 20 years each. It was commuted to 15 years in the judicial appeal. The sentences were random and chaotic and depended on one evidence: confessions extracted by torture.

When the BICI commenced its work, retrials were held. Cases were transferred to civilian courts, but the procedures leading to the first trials were not revoked, despite the fact the the commission found that those procedures lacked the basics of fairness. All the defendants were acquitted, except for one man, Mohamed Mirza was sentenced to 10 years!

Mrs. Mahdi concludes:

Four years passed, that's longer than the two years and four months he spent with his wife. All of this happened when his path crossed a checkpoint he had to pass when he needed two boxes, a box of cigarettes and a box of milk.

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