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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
Life and Style

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

IT Support Engineer (1st and 2nd Line) - London

£22000 - £24000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer (1st...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?