Profiles in Persecution: Ebtesam Abdulhusain al-Saegh

Ebtesam Abdulhusain al-Saegh is a Bahraini human rights activist who has been subjected to detention and torture by Bahraini security forces because of her work.

Ebtesam was harassed by the government for a year prior to her current detention. In June of 2016 authorities imposed a travel ban on her to prevent her from attending a session of the UN Human Rights Council. The travel ban remained in effect through the next session in September 2016.

In January 2017 Ebtesam was summoned for an interrogation at the Muharraq security office. The officers conducting the interrogation introduced themselves as agents from the National Security Agency (NSA). She was questioned about her human rights activism; the NSA officers told Ebtesam that her work crossed the line and gave Bahrain a “bad image.” Before she left, she was warned that her next visit to the security office would be different.

In March 2017, while Ebtesam was in Geneva for a Human Rights Council session, her sister was summoned for questioning about her whereabouts. When Ebtesam returned from Geneva on 21 March 2017, she was brought from the airport to Muharraq for an interrogation. She was again asked about her work for human rights. In April 2017, Ebtesam was interrogated yet again and was prevented from attending another Human Rights Council session.

On 15 May 2017 Ebtesam’s car was incinerated. The Ministry of Interior announced publicly that the fire had been caused by a short circuit.

On 26 May 2017 Ebtesam was summoned again to Muharraq security office and was interrogated by NSA officers about the activities of Bahraini human rights activists and organizations. Neither her husband nor her attorney were allowed to see or speak to her during the interrogation. While in custody she was blindfolded and made to stand for seven hours while she was physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Her Shia faith was insulted, she was photographed undressed, and she was brutally beaten. The officers threatened to release the photos of her unclothed, threatened to rape and kill her, and threatened to imprison or kill her family members. All of the torture Ebtesam endured was linked to the demand that she stop her human rights work.

Ebtesam suffered severe psychological trauma from the torture. Immediately after her release from the security office, she was hospitalized and refused to speak to anyone outside of her immediate family.

On 3 July 2017, at approximately 11:45 p.m., Ebtesam was detained from home by masked state agents. Five civilian vehicles and a minibus arrived on her street and a group of armed officers wearing body-mounted cameras entered the home. They did not identify themselves, nor did they present a warrant for search or arrest. The officers did not inform the family why Ebtesam was being detained, or even where they were taking her. They simply took her away without any explanation.

Information on Ebtesam since then has been extremely sparse, and the little there is has been extremely alarming. Unti her location and well-being can be confirmed by independent monitors, her detention amounts to an effective disappearance, and there is grave fear that she is again being subjected to torture because of her activism for the cause of human rights in Bahrain.