Bahrain gives exile a passport to purgatory

Robert Fisk, in the second of a series of reports on the repressive regime in the Gulf state of Bahrain, hears the story of a campaigner for democracy

Bahraini passport No 721185 doesn't do Abdullah Ali Rashid al- Birali much good. He can't go home on it - unless he wishes to be deported. When he flew to the Bahraini capital of Manama they confiscated his current passport, detained him for a week and then deported him with a new passport, No 721185, issued for the specific purpose of throwing him out of his own country.

The men who detained him were Pakistanis working for the Bahraini security services which are run by a former British colonial policeman, Ian Henderson. A Bahraini was thus prevented from entering Bahrain and deported from Bahrain by foreigners. Kafka has nothing on this.

Nor is Mr Birali's fate uncommon. Around 100 Bahrainis - along with wives and children - have been unceremoniously bundled out of their own country over the past three years, en route for Doha, Dubai, London, Damascus and Tehran, all for the crime of demanding a return to the 1973 constitution and the dissolved 1975 parliament.

Officially accused of conspiracy to overthrow Sheikh Issa bin Salman al-Khalifa's State of Bahrain or of "links to terrorist movements", the exiled Bahrainis languish in cramped apartments, pleading with their embassies to renew their passports in order to maintain citizenship of a country to which they cannot return. Almost all of them blame Mr Henderson, who controls the Bahrain Special Intelligence Service (SIS), for their plight.

"I went back to Bahrain in March 1993 and they arrested me in the immigration queue," Mr Birali says. "They were Pakistanis, and one of them asked: 'Why did you come here?' I said: 'This is my country.' Then they took my passport and told the crew of the Yemeni plane I'd arrived on that they must take me back to Sanaa, claiming I was a Palestinian. The police denied I'd arrived on a Bahraini passport. But I'd photocopied my passport and when the Yemeni pilot realised the policemen were lying, he wouldn't let me back on board. So the Bahrain police took me away with a friend who'd arrived on the same plane, both of us blindfolded, to a locked room near the airport. Then they took off my blindfold and took my photograph.

"In the room, my friend and I were separated. A guard was with me, four feet away from me, day and night. Towards the end, a police sergeant came in with an envelope and said: 'You want something to read? Try this!' It was a report on my life in Bahrain, written in English, from 1957 till that very day, about 30 pages of it.

"Then a Bahraini called al-Maowda came in and said: 'I have a message from Henderson who says you cannot come back to Bahrain without permission. If you come back to Bahrain, we have the report you've just read which contains confessions which implicate you. We can put you in prison now under the State Security Law.' I told al-Maowda I'd done nothing wrong - that all I'd done was demand the return of the Bahraini constitution and the parliament."

Instead, Mr Birali was held in his locked room for seven days and put on a flight back to Yemen. "They took us straight to the boarding gate at Bahrain airport. The officer who arrested us a week before handed me a brand new Bahraini passport valid for five countries - Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq - and gave me a ticket to Sanaa." Mr Birali holds out his passport. It contains the photograph taken of him by the police in the sealed airport room. "Issued 13/4/1993," it says. "Expires 13/4/94. Born: 1938. Occupation: Employee. Abdulla [sic] Ali Rashed al-Birali. Nationality: Bahraini."

In 1994, Mr Birali waited three months in Damascus for the Bahraini embassy to extend the validity of his passport. In despair, he flew back to Bahrain again, this time on a flight of Gulf Air, Bahrain's national airline. "All my family were waiting to see me, but again I was taken to the locked room. The following morning, they extended my passport and put me back on the flight to Damascus. I didn't see my family." Last year, when he applied at the Bahraini embassy in Damascus yet again for a passport extension, they granted his request - on condition he did not go home.

Not that Mr Birali expected much else. The British threw him out of Bahrain twice - in 1960 and 1967 - after he had joined a local nationalist movement calling for the end of British colonial rule in the Middle East and helped form the National Liberation Front of Bahrain. In 1969 he again returned, this time with his Lebanese wife and baby daughter. Ten days later, he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months for alleged involvement in a car bomb attack against a British policeman. He says he had no knowledge of the bombing. On his release, he was deported to Lebanon.

When the British left Bahrain in 1971, Mr Birali returned for post-independence national elections. He failed to gain a seat. "Then in 1974 the Saudis became very nervous. They didn't want our democracy on their doorstep. The Saudi and Bahraini foreign ministers met on 18 June and six days later I and most of the members of the Bahraini Liberation Front were arrested and sent to prison."

He was released in 1975 and again ordered into exile. "Before I left, I tried through mediation to stay at home. I wrote a letter to Sheikh Issa, to his son and brother, to all the governments in the Gulf, asking for help. I received no answer to any of these letters. The authorities said I might be able to stay if I signed a document admitting 'anti-government activities'. I refused."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Infrastructure / Network Engineer (VMware, Windows, LAN/WAN)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Primary teaching jobs in Thetford

£1036224 - £1513056 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Educatio...

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week