Nazeeha Saeed – Bahrain
Nazeeha Saeed – Bahrain
Nazeeha Saeed, a Bahraini national, is a lecturer at the Superior School of Journalism of Paris (ESJ Paris), and a human rights defender. She works with a number of media outlets in written journalism, television and radio, including but not limited to Radio Monte Carlo. Over the past decades, she specialized in freedom of expression and freedom of the press, particularly investigative journalism and the safety of journalists. She is also a specialist in training on covering gender issues, especially defending women’s rights, through writing essays and cooperating with various regional and international media outlets.
Objective Journalism.. Without Fear or Bias.
She has not experienced specific challenges other than proving herself and attaining her academic goals and career objectives in the field of journalism. However, after 2011, as the demonstrations calling for democracy in Bahrain began, Nazeeha faced the challenge of practicing independent and professional journalism free from political influence. In her assessment of the state of press freedom in Bahrain, she found that practicing journalism fell under three classifications: the press that was controlled by the authorities, which acted as a spokesperson on all views the regime wanted to promote; or the media of the opposition movements, which amplified news without verifying the facts; or free press that objectively covered events.
Nazeeha believed in objective, impartial and honest press that provides confirmed and factual information, news and analysis, without fear or prejudice, in an environment that promotes freedoms without any censorship, distortion or restrictions being imposed by the authorities, and where democracy and citizens are protected.
These convictions constituted fundamental challenges to Nazeeha, as she realized that they come at a price. The Bahraini government suppressed any source of information which was not in-line with the official narrative of events.
I understood that my being vocal was the reason, so I decided that I was not going to be silenced.
In 2011, she worked with a number of international news agencies to cover pro-democracy demonstrations. Subsequently, she was summoned by the authorities in May 2011, and was subjected to torture during interrogation. She was accused of participating in the protests and lying in her press reports.
|She was slapped, kicked and punched, and a woman officer put a shoe in her mouth, while she said to Nazeeha “You are not worth more than this shoe.” Nazeeha was then blindfolded, and the women officers continued to beat her by a plastic hose. After a period of waiting, she was taken again for interrogation. The officers attempted to insult Nazeeha by ordering her to imitate animal sounds, and continued to beat her. One of the officers brought a bottle close her mouth and told her that it contained urine and that she has to drink it. Nazeeha pushed the bottle away, but the officer through its contents on her face, which got inflamed.
After Nazeeha was released, she filed a complaint against the women officers who interrogated her for torture and ill-treatment, but only one officer among the abusers was tried, and she was later acquitted.
Restrictions imposed on Nazeeha intensified. Her journalism license was withdrawn. She was prevented from working, and a travel ban was imposed on her in 2016. After the travel ban was lifted, and given these challenges, Nazeeha knew that it was time to leave.
|“Prior to my arrest, I was not able to picture the horrific nature of the stories we as journalists used to hear and cover. Various forms of physical and psychological torture were being perpetrated at police stations, including blindfolding, beatings on different body parts and electrocution. There were many instances where they deliberately attempted to humiliate and insult me. I remained in detention for long hours which felt like an eternity before I was released.
I have done nothing to justify the arrest other than covering the demonstrations which called for freedom and democracy. I understood that my being vocal was the reason, so I decided that I was not going to be silenced.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by defenders is the contagious nature of repressive and restrictive measures. For example, when a given country passes a law concerning the revocation of citizenship, other countries are quick to follow suit, which threatens opponents, activists and human rights defenders. There have been numerous cases when persons have been denaturalized or subjected to travel bans, which violates their most basic rights. Nazeeha understands the fear experiences by many of her colleagues, which caused them to give up journalistic work after being arrested, tortured or even deported. She refuses to pass judgements on someone who chose to leave out of fear for one’s safety and believes everyone has the rights to choose and assess their situation.
Voluntary exile: a new beginning
“The arrest was a turning point in my career and personal life”
|“I am a different person from my former self prior to the arrest. I got to know the forms of torture I used to write about as I captured the detainees’ testimonies about torture in my reports. Having been inside the detention facility and the police station gave me a different perspective, and enabled me to see the reality of the accounts pertaining to torture.”
After several months of detention, Nazeeha moved to France, and went back to work, as she was surrounded by immense moral and community support from her family and friends, which gave her strength.
She begun to focus her journalistic work on human rights and political freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, freedom of the press and women’s rights. She authored numerous political and human rights reports, and provided training on the safety of journalists, investigative journalism and journalists’ rights, in addition to covering gender issues.
Life is not all that rosy
Although Nazeeha does not fear today that her home will be broken into or that she gets arrested due to an article or a tweet, she nevertheless faces other challenges, such as language, the different culture and sometimes societal racism, since she is not a citizen of any country in the European Union. She wishes she had stayed in her country among her family and friends. She sometimes faces gender-specific challenges and constraints that are experiences by women in the region particularly in media, which are often magnified on account of social beliefs and inherited customs.
|The people who influenced me the most and gave me strength were women whom I knew through personal ties or professional connections. I learned to be strong and resilient from the wives of those who are kept behind bars. These women played a major role in my journalism career over two decades.
We possess great might. I hope that women are aware of their potential and make use of it.
Armed with hope
Nazeeha gets inspiration from human rights defenders who remained true to their convictions and principles of defending human rights, in spite of all the harassment attempts against them and the torture to which they have been subjected. Her work with the families of detainees, with whom she was in direct contact as part of her work, was a key factor in reinforcing her strength and resilience. She could see how firmly they believe in their cause, and what tremendous power they had to be able to support their children and spouses who were imprisoned because they demanded political change and democracy in their country.
|I never aspired to hold any position in the legislature, the executive or the judiciary. I am part of the fourth estate, which has the power to exercise oversight and demand accountability.
Nazeeha is armed with hope which always leads her to change. She believes that things will not remain the same, and that history has shown that oppressive authorities cannot last.
|We choose what we want and what impact we want to leave behind. I chose to take the side of people’s rights and just causes, and to try to make even a small difference in their lives, if I can protect them or help get their voices heard.
She remains true to her convictions and believes that all people are free and have every right to speak their minds and express themselves. She strongly believes that freedom of the press is an important and fundamental pillar of democracy, which she hopes will prevail all over the world.