On the occasion of the re-trial of people convicted in connection with the 13th March 2011 incident at the University of Bahrain, this is a re-post of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights article of 28th November 2011, which was based on testimony I submitted to the BICI in September.
I submitted some 15,000 words of eye-witness testimony and supporting evidence to the Commission, based on what I saw happen in the College of Arts, BTC, the University Square and Refectory, and, significantly, Building S20 between 8.30 and 14.30 on 13th.
I was the only expatriate faculty member to have witnessed events for so long, in fact I doubt ANY UoB employee saw as much as I did for as long in different locations on the Al Sakhir campus.
Significantly, I made a point of visiting S20, and was the only Westerner and the only faculty member to do so. I saw how ‘loyalist’ students and outsiders in the building were carrying a range of weapons that one wouldn’t expect university students to have on campus.
I also heard how the ‘loyalist’ crowd in S20 were being worked up by inflammatory, highly sectarian speeches from extreme Salafite students, one of which I recognised from BTC.
My evidence significantly contradicts the official account written by the UoB administration and submitted to the BICI. While I did see anti-government outsiders commit serious acts of violence on campus, the violence was not initiated by them.
Rather, the violence started when an armed gang of ‘loyalist’ ‘new Bahraini’ students attacked a peaceful demonstration and sit-in by mainly female undergraduate students.
The anti-government young men tried to protect the women by forming a human chain, and only gradually resorted to defensive violence once gangs of armed ‘loyalist’ outsiders started to arrive at the university, supported by the ‘police’.
As wave upon wave of baltajiyya arrived on campus, worried students started to call their own anti-government outsiders asking them to help defend them. These arrived, and a general melee occurred.
The violence of some of the anti-regime outsiders WAS unacceptable, but they did not start the violence, and from their perspective were only trying to defend vulnerable young people, most of whom were women in their late teens and early 20s.
The demonstration of 13th March was the third demonstration on campus. For an entire week rumours were rife that people in ‘the system’ were getting tired of the demonstrations, and that the demonstrators were likely to be ‘taught a lesson’. One senior BTC figure told me the previous week to be careful, because ‘Al Qaaeda types’ were likely to come on campus.
Against this background, Ibrahim Janahi and the rest of the senior management team did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in response. They could have closed the university pre-emptively, but chose not to. They could have closed and evacuated the university early on 13th, they chose not to.
At no point, as tensions grew in Bahrain during the first three months of 2011 were any instructions, guidance as to the limits of their professional responsibility, briefing or training given to faculty on how to respond to demonstrations, sit-ins, and potential violence. We were all kept in the dark.
In any university worthy of the name the senior management from the President down would have been fired, and could well be facing criminal charges for gross negligence. As it is, their status has been enhanced by the lies and distortions they have peddled about the 13th March incident.
Despite extensive photographic and video evidence, the ‘loyalist’ thugs who initiated the violence have remained unpunished. One, a prominent Bahraini athlete, openly boasts that ‘the government covers my back’.
Until justice has been delivered evenhandedly, and people compensated for wrongful arrest, wrongful imprisonment, torture, intimidation and damage to career and reputation, the organisation in Al Sakhir does not deserve the title ‘university’ and no serious university or other academic institution worldwide should consider doing business with it.
BICI was at best only a start. Bahrain needs a proper, UN-supervised truth and reconciliation process, this is the only way to make progress. Part of this should be the abolition of the University of Bahrain, and its replacement with a completely new institution that is a genuine independent university, not an arm of the state security system’s apparatus of surveillance and repression.
BTC and Bahrain Polytechnic should regain their independence from existing structures like the Ministry of Education and the University of Bahrain, and Education Minister Al Nouaimi should be replaced by a minister who actually knows something about education, and face investigation for his role in making the MoE complicit in human rights abuses.
The MoE itself should be slimmed down or replaced altogether, and all schools and further and higher education institutions in Bahrain should be helped to become independent, autonomous and democratically accountable institutions.
November’s Bahrain Centre for Human Rights piece on my starts below:
Original post can be found here: http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/4862
Former University Professor’s Testimony of March 13 University of Bahrain Incident
27 Nov 2011
About seven months ago, the University of Bahrain (UOB) endorsed an act of bigotry amongst the institution as a whole. UOB used to be respected for its education and mannerism but now the system has degraded itself as a parallel to the system of the unjust Bahraini regime. Supported by the government, the university conducted expulsions, warnings, and suspensions to students without say. More than 400 students were expelled for participating in “unauthorized protests”, at least 100 scholarships were revoked, approximately 78 students were arrested and 20 professors were sacked. Just few weeks ago a hundred students and employees of the university have been presented before the criminal court on charges of illegal gathering. In regards to freedom of speech as a basic human right, to advocate a belief evidently is a crime according to the Bahraini regime.
On the morning of March 13th 2011 Bahraini students protested peacefully on campus against the Bahraini regime. Soon after, the University of Bahrain was attacked by government-sponsored thugs and politically naturalized citizens. Students began posting videos of the unidentified thugs on YouTube, some of who were obviously non-students and each of them carrying a deadly weapon, vandalizing the university and putting lives of student demonstrators at risk. As students panicked the campus went from peaceful protests to chaos, leading to many injuries. Although there have not been official statements of the number of injures that day, Salmaniya Medical Complex received 4 injuries caused by swords and a health center in Hamad town received 80 to 100 injuries. It is said that half of the cases transferred to the hospital were not registered. One student, Sayed Shubber Sayed Ali was attacked on the head which lead to a skull fracture. (bahrainrights.org/en/node/4190) Some students were also arrested, either during the incident or in the following days, most of who are still detained until further notice.
Dr. Michael Vaughn Diboll, a former Professor who taught at the University of Bahrain for four consecutive years was not only a witness to the happenings on campus that day but he also encountered students who took part in peaceful demonstrations and crossed paths with some of the attackers as he tried to flee from campus. He has sent a testimony to BCHR of his experience during some of the most horrific moments Bahrain faced during the February 14th uprising. He speaks of his profession, his knowledge about the country, the tension that he felt among his colleagues, he examines the apprehensiveness of students, and with details he talks about why he is led to believe that the senior authority of the University is directing an unsafe and careless environment for all staff members and students.
Following the pre-dawn attack on the Pearl Roundabout on February 17 which lead to the death of 2 protesters, one of which was a student in the University of Bahrain, the university witnessed a number pro-democracy demonstrations on February 20, February 27 and March 6. Three days prior to March 13 Dr. Diboll met with Chair of the Academic Heads’ Council at Bahrain Teachers’ College (BTC), Dr. Khaled Al Baker, on March 10 where he indicated that the “high-ups” were fed up with the demonstrations and something was going to be done if they continue. Dr. Diboll explains, “I asked what would be done, he said that people from outside the university would get involved. I asked him who these people might be. He said “All sorts…even Al Qaa’eda types”, taking that as a hint to not attend university the following Sunday where another pro-democracy protest was going to be held on UOB campus, with rumors that outsiders were going to violently attack.
After he left the country for his own safety, Dr. Diboll stated that there was “…a systematic attempt to round up professionals who might be considered to be dissident intellectuals”, many were indeed investigated. The following is more evidence that directed his suspicion about the unjust system by the University. This is proof documented in his testimony, that UOB lacks authority of virtue, conducting yet another attempt to disqualify the innocent based on difference of opinion.
The following is a very brief summary of Dr. Diboll’s experience on March 13 2011 where he witnessed the unfolding of events:
“The class I was to teach started at 9.00 a.m., it was a second year undergraduate course ENGL 215, ‘Introduction to Drama’, and the text for that session was Sophocles’ ‘King Oedipus’…… The course started on time. The atmosphere in class was somewhat tense and distracted, but no more than usual since the events following 14th February. About ten minutes into the class students mobile phones started bleeping with messages, and students began to look anxious and distracted…By about 9.30 I had one student remaining in class, who wanted me to carry on teaching her, but then she seemed embarrassed and made her excuses and left… I left and locked the room…
By now the demonstration had grown to, I’d estimate, upwards of a thousand female students, they were very close to [building] S17, and I could hear their chants: the usual ‘Down, down Hamad’, and ‘The people want the fall of the regime’ (in Arabic)… The demonstrating students chanted for about ten minutes, then began to move out of [building] S17 entering the main College of Arts building…The atmosphere remained determined, but the students were still behaving in a peaceful manner.
…When I entered the square there were fewer protesting students than there had been about half an hour ago, it was now about 10.50. The female students were now huddled together tightly in the centre of the square. Around them the male students had formed a human chain by linking arms, facing outwards into the square. I knew many of these students, and spend about fifteen minutes talking to them, asking them what had happened… Some said that the demonstration had been attacked by the ‘baltajiyya’, ‘thugs’, and that some of the women had been harmed and ‘dishonoured’…
Entering the foyer area I found myself in the midst of a lot of noise and commotion. I couldn’t see any ‘thugs’ (“baltajiyya”) there. The people I saw were, to the best of my knowledge, all students, about 100 in total. Some of these I knew from BTC, others I had seen around the university previously… judging by their dress, appearance and accents, they were all from the Bahraini Sunni community, or were ‘naturalized’ (mujannas), or the sons on naturalized Bahrainis…These students were very excited, and many of them were carrying blunt or sharp-edged weapons including axes, swords, golf clubs, iron bars, heavy chains, and baseball bats… The foyer had a strong smell of male sweat, as if these students had recently been exerting themselves… There were three students I knew to be undergraduates studying for their B.Ed. degrees at BTC, these were dressed in an obviously Salafite way: uncut beards, thobes cut short above the ankle, white Arabian style headdress, and open sandals. One was of Yemeni origin, the other two were Sunni Bahrainis. These three were standing on the stairs leading up from the foyer, making impassioned speeches and leading the rest of the students in shouting slogans. Some of these were straightforward things like the ‘takbeer’ (Allahu Akbar) [God is great], but others were blood-curdling slogans insulting the Shia, saying that their blood was ‘allowed’, and calling for the ethnic cleansing of the island and a holy war against the Shia ‘infidel’… I thought the situation might become unsafe for me, and so I left.
Over a period of about 20 minutes there were another three waves of attack launched against the students outside of the north-facing foyer…Later, it would be said in the Bahrain media that BTC had been attacked by the students who had been doing the original demonstration… it was clear to me that what Dr. Haslam later referred to as the ‘siege’ of BTC, which I did witness, involved BTC students being attacked by outsiders. Dr. Haslam does not speak a word of Arabic, so perhaps there was an excuse, on the spur of the moment, for his confusion about who was attacking whom. However, the two other senior BTC people who were on the ground floor during the ‘siege’ were native speakers of Arabic, so I find it hard to believe that they were similarly confused. Looking back, I now suspect that one of the reasons BTC faculty had been ordered up to their rooms on the next two floors up was to reduce the number of potential witnesses… Ambulances had now started to arrive… These were red and white ambulances with red flashing lights, like the ones used at Salmaniyya Medical Complex. They seemed to be staffed by genuine paramedics.
Where is the police?
Early on in the day, I had seen Interior Ministry Police on campus, but there had been no evidence at all of them during the ‘siege’ of [building] S22, even though they must still have been on campus, and there had been plenty of time for reinforcements to arrive. Now, however, a group of about 80 formed up in two ranks in front of the Business College… The front rank had shields and batons, the rear rank had the large caliber guns that are used to fire ‘baton rounds’ (rubber or plastic bullets) or CS gas canisters. They appeared to be straightening up their front line, in preparation for an assault on [building] S22. Male students began taunting them, with some approaching to within a few meters of the police, bare-chested, inviting the police to open fire on them… I started once more to fear for my safety. Some of the women around [building] S22 began shouting ‘Silmiyya, silmiyya’ (‘peaceful resistance’), and the men then joined in the chanting, which became quite loud… The young men began picking the flowers, and advanced very close to the police, throwing the flowers at the police as they chanted ‘Silmiyya, silmiyya’……
By now, protestors had started to arrive from Pearl Roundabout. They were arriving by car, van 4×4, motorbike, even apparently commandeered buses… The goal of the protestors seemed to be to contain the ‘thugs’, student-attackers, and police while students, in particular the young women, were evacuated.
During the following, very tense half-hour or so the numbers of students on campus did indeed seem to fall dramatically. At around this time a convoy of cars left the carpark of [building] S22 carrying the BTC faculty… I saw the faculty depart , and this was the first time I had seen most of them all day… One colleague asked me to join the escape convoy as it pulled away. I refused, partly because my own car was on the other side of the campus and I did not want to abandon it there, and partly because I had seen a lot already, and wanted to continue to bear witness to events as they unfolded. At that point I noticed that there were helicopters circling the campus, carrying men filming events. I knew from earlier in the day that the UoB and possibly the security forces had people on the ground photographing and filming events. Since I had been actively moving about the campus, and had now refused to join the convoy out of the university, it occurred to me that my presence on-campus that day could be misinterpreted as participating in events……
Over a period of some half an hour, Building S20 sustained serious external damage; the air was filled with the sound of splintering glass and the thud of bricks and stones on the side of the building and the flagstones below. At its height this assault was extremely violent, and I feared that loss of life would occur if the two sides were to confront each other face-to-face. Ambulances, I’m not sure whether they were commandeered or not, arrived and were taking away students and protestors who had sustained … that there must have been injuries among the students inside, although I didn’t witness these.
……There was not graffiti or slogans such as those at the Pearl Roundabout, which would have indicated an attempt to occupy the university buildings, but a great deal of damage to property what had obviously been caused by the kinds of violent incidents I had witnessed in other parts of the campus. Sinisterly, there were discarded items of footwear and clothing, including women’s shoes and veils, indicating that that their owners had fled in terror without regard to covering their bodies, a significant indicator of fear and panic in a society that places such high value on perceived honour. There were also small pools of blood.
…… From what I could see S17 had not received the kind of structural damage that the other building had sustained, indicating that no confrontation had taken place there following the morning’s peaceful demonstration. I tried the doors into S17, but they were locked and the building was clearly empty. I made my way to my car, which thankfully was undamaged.
I started my car and waited for about ten minutes for the outsiders who I had seen apparently leaving the university… As I came up to the roundabout a group of men tried to surround my car. They carried wooden staves and iron bars, and were shouting at me to stop. I had no intention of doing so, as they were not in any sort of uniform, and looked slightly deranged, like men high on adrenaline……
As I approached the main entrance a chaotic scene met my eyes. An ambulance was trapped “cross-axeled on the grass verge between the carriageways, unable to escape. It’s rear wheels had dug deep holes into the soil, the doors were flung open, and the inside of the ambulance was gutted of all equipment. There was broken windscreen glass around the ambulance…… Closer to the entrance where some very expensive and undamaged cars… and about 15 people who I took to be their owners, heavily muscled young men with military looking haircuts and moustaches, but wearing expensive casual clothes; these men carried sharp and blunt-edged weapons, two of them seemed to have pistols tucked into their waistbands… The carriageway ahead of me looked like a disaster zone, yet more evidence of an intense battle, broken glass, wrecked cars, large pools of blood, which seemed to have only just taken place. I guessed that the Pearl Roundabout outsiders had been met by a fresh wave of pro-regime outsiders (the musclemen?) as they tried to get out of the university……”
This is a picture of one of the attackers with ax hanging from his belt. Dr. Diboll was able to snap it as he was fleeing from campus.
End of Testimony
The above testimony proves to show that the attack was not conducted by pro-democracy student demonstrators but by other students and outsiders who as Dr. Diboll witnessed were carrying “sharp-edged weapons… swords, machetes, axes, etc”. He could not possibly have been confused towards who the attackers were due to language barrier as he is fluent in Arabic. Due to fear of his and his family’s safety, Dr. Diboll left Bahrain on March 21. On April 18 he received an email instructing all BTC faculty to return to Bahrain by May 1. However Dr. Diboll feared for his safety as he was receiving death threats and harassments on social media websites by former students and “pro-regime trolls”. He was also being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and was granted a four-week leave from work which he sent to BTC admin. On May 16, he received an email from Dean of BTC which stated that the UOB Administration did not accept the medical note as it must be approved by the Bahrain Medical Commission of the Ministry of Health, explaining that it was “normal practice for all sick notes exceeding 6 days here in Bahrain”. Therefore, he did not receive approval to be absent and was requested to return to work by May 22.
Due to the fact that he received this email at a time when the Health sector in Bahrain was under constant attack from the authorities who were conducting arbitrary arrests of doctors for treated injured protesters, Dr. Diboll lacked confidence in the legitimacy and objectivity of the Ministry of Health in regards to his issue. On May 3 he received an email with an attachment from Dr. Ian Haslam, Dean of Bahrain Teachers’ College. It briefed BTC faculty who had recently returned to Bahrain from abroad of events in Bahrain during their absence and instructions to follow. Dr. Diboll sent us the full text of this email and highlighted the following items of which raised his concern:
English Academic Group, Bahrain Teacher’s College Lunch Meeting, May 3 2011 12:00
Order of communication and discussion:
2. Action taken by MOE/Gov’t.
a. Over 30 BTC students have been detained, including 3 females
b. The vocational education program is terminated; the students dismissed or detained.
c. Several staff members have been investigated; their computers searched.
d. Mr. Ibrahim has been dismissed.
e. Student, staff & faculty Facebook pages have been reviewed; as have postings on Utube.
4. Discussions regarding students:
a. Take advantage of the events to dismiss all failing students (Dean Ian).
b. Provide a studies skills course through Tom’s dept. for students on probation or warning.
c. Reduced numbers of new BTC students will eliminate problems (Dean Ian).
Due to the above, Dr. Diboll decided it was best to quit his job on a “moral, ethical, and professional level”, also in fear for his safety and psychological and emotional well-being. He wrote to Dr. Ian Haslam in regards to his resignation on May 18. On June 22 he received an email from Dr. Yousef Al Zu’ubi, Head of the Office of Legal Advisor, who wrote that his resignation was not accepted due to “unauthorized absence from campus and surveillance of (his) Internet use” and for those reasons the University refused to pay Dr. Diboll BD 13,000 end of the contract settlement fee.
Dr. Diboll is a highly qualified professional who was dedicated to work during his 4 years at UOB. He has a BA in Modern Languages from the University of Westminster, Cambridge-RSA Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD in Comparative English-Arabic Literature from the University of Leicester. He taught at UOB as Assistant professor of English language and literature from August 2007 to December 2008, and then he was appointed head of Continuing Professional Development at Bahrain Teachers’ College . He has been living in the GCC region since 2002, and is fluent and literate in Arabic as he has studied it for 22 years. Despite his excellent qualifications, Dr. Diboll is not able to ask for references from the University of Bahrain while applying to work in the UK due to the unfair treatment he was subjected to.
Dr. Diboll was unappreciated for his professionalism and commitment to moral and ethical values, as he was treated unfairly UOB admin who declined his medical leave and refused to pay the end of contract settlement fee, practically dismissing him due to the refusal of his resignation letter. This proves to show the unprofessionalism of the University of Bahrain as an institute which tried to justify his dismissal, adding one of the reasons to declining the medical leave as due to Dr. Diboll’s activities on the internet, which goes as an invasion of his privacy and academic freedom. We believe that he was subjected to discrimination for his witnessing of events of March 13 which is a threat to the university as he had witnessed what truly happened.
BCHR holds the University of Bahrain accountable for any harm done to students on the events of March 13, as they cooperated with the authorities to bring harm towards student demonstrators by allowing strangers with deadly weapons on university campus. We further hold them responsible for the losses that Dr. Diboll was subjected to, which include: “loss of job, loss of any potential employment in Bahrain, loss of earnings and damage to (his) professional reputation”.
Therefore, BCHR call for the following:
• An independent, qualified commission to look into the events of March 13 objectively and hold those responsible accountable for their actions
• Moral and material compensation to all harmed students in the events of the thug attack on the University
• Bring the attackers, of who are students and strangers, to justice before a court of law. This includes those of who allowed and instructed for the attack
• Drop all charges against those currently detained UOB students accused of being involved in the thug attack despite their innocence.
• Dr. Diboll should be compensated for the losses he has incurred following the events of March 13.