Bahrain: The Forbidden Country
On a dusty football pitch in Bahrain, a convoy – or rather, a pack – of police 4x4s screeched into the crowd that had gathered there, scattering panicking protesters. As they circled at high speed, passing through the crowd, it was not clear if they were actively trying to hit the protesters, or just to scatter them, but what was clear was that it didn’t seem to matter if they did.
This footage was captured by French film-maker and journalist Stéphanie Lamorré, who travelled to the tiny Gulf Kingdom on a tourist visa, before ‘disappearing’ for a month, to live undercover and film the pro-democracy protest movement in its battle against the authorities.
To avoid the restrictions placed on journalists, the raw film had then to be smuggled across the border and ‘Fedexed to France’, according to producer Luc Hermann who introduced a special screening at the Commonwealth Club on Tuesday night.
In the resulting film, Bahrain: The Forbidden Country, Lamorré shows through interviews with three women that Bahrain’s protest movement, out of sight and, for most, out of mind since 2011, has not disappeared. And her interviewees are difficult to dismiss as simply unthinking trouble-makers.
Zainab, daughter of the Bahraini-Danish human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja whose 110 day hunter strike brought international attention to the Bahraini struggle, spends her days meeting protesters and their families, hearing their stories and tweeting them from her ever-present Blackberry. Her nights are spent at protests.
On the day Lamorré filmed her, she spoke to the family of a 50-year-old mother who had immolated herself in desperation at continuous police raids on her family. Her blog, Angry Arabiya, contains many similar stories.
Perhaps the most striking story shown in the film is that of Nada, 38, a doctor and mother of two young children who was arrested, imprisoned and claims to have been tortured for the crime of giving medical aid to protestors. An earlier shot had shown other doctors and nurses begging police to be allowed to enter their hospital to treat the wounded. Instead of being treated, the injured were arrested.
At the time of the film Nada was awaiting trial.
The death toll in Bahrain has been small – as David Cameron says, ‘Bahrain is not Syria‘ – but, as this film graphically shows, protesters are still targeted with tear gas, rubber bullets, buck shot, and, in some cases, live ammunition. It is these protesters – who cannot go to hospital for fear of arrest – that Ouahida treats. Although not a doctor or nurse, she learned first aid, and began to travel under cover of night to treat wounds and pick out buckshot.
At the end of the screening it is revealed that, just months after filming, Ouahida was seriously injured in a car crash fleeing from the police.
Bahrain, with its population of under one and a half million, its stable monarchy, and its high-income economy, rarely makes the news here.
Lamorré’s film is a welcome break to this silence.
This article was originally published at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.