Jalila al-Salman is vice president of the teachers’ union in Bahrain. She faces the prospect of a three year prison sentence on Sunday for her trade union activities, which include leading a strike.
[12.08pm update: Jalila al-Salman has been sentenced to six months in jail and her coaccused Mahdi Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, president of the union, has been sentenced to five years.]
Jalila spoke to Judith Orr about her struggle for justice in Bahrain.
“The Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA) was under focus even before the uprising because of our work.” said Jalila. “The regime sees us as a problem because we educate teachers about their rights.”
Jalila took part in a three day strike in February last year at the start of the uprising against the authoritarian regime ruling Bahrain.
“I am just a teacher like any teacher,” she said. “All of Bahrain went to the Pearl Roundabout to protest. There were over 100,000 of us. We just wanted democracy and our rights.”
One month after the strike, on 29 March 2011, Jalila was arrested in a dawn raid at her house and subjected to months of imprisonment and torture.
“Fifty armed men broke into my house, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. They turned the house upside down. They came into my bedroom and grabbed me and held a gun to my head. They wouldn’t even let me change out of my nightwear.
“My husband was surrounded and could do nothing. My children, who were six, eight and ten at the time, were terrified.”
Jalila was taken to prison where she wasn’t able to see anyone for the first month. She only got to see her children for five minutes when she was finally taken to a military court on 6 June.
She was beaten and held in solitary confinement. “They used a black rubber hose to beat me. One cell had dried blood on the walls and hook in the ceiling. It was a place for torture. They kept me for eight days in a freezer. They wanted me to sign a confession. I don’t how I survived.”
Jalila was released on bail after going on hunger strike in August 2011. After appeals and a long legal process she was sentenced to three years in prison. She will be told on Sunday if she will have to serve her sentence
She and BTA president Mahdi Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb face a number of charges, including “inciting hatred of the regime” and “attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force”.
But despite the past 18 months she is determined that the struggle must go on. “At the end of the day we need our rights—whatever it takes, even if the price is very high.
“Such struggles are not new to us. We saw them even before the Arab Spring—but this has been the biggest movement for change.
“The regime knows we are right and we know how weak it is. The US and Britain say they are for freedom and democracy, but they support the regime. They have double standards. They should take away their support.”
Regime forces regularly harass teachers. “Thousands have been sacked or had their salary cut. The ministry for education recently issued an instruction that teachers were not allowed to put their hands in their pockets, and that we should not talk together when we have breaks.”
“They don’t want us to organise. But we’ve had great support from Bahraini teachers. I was only released because of solidarity and international pressure.
“I don’t want to go back to prison, but you have to fight for your rights. They will not come to you—you have to go and fight for them. I believe struggle can make a difference for workers all over the world.”
Send messages of support to Jalila al-Salman and the Bahrain Teachers’ Association to [email protected]