Freed Bahraini Detainees Tell Of Mistreatment

Bahrain has met a demand of protesters by releasing more than 300 prisoners. The detainees spoke of beatings and mistreatment, and said they owed their freedom to the demonstrators who have flooded the center of the capital.

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Demonstrators in Bahrain claimed a victory yesterday as the first of more than 300 prisoners were released by the government. When they emerged, the detainees spoke of beatings and mistreatment. They said they owed their freedom to the protestors who flooded the center of the capital Manama. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON: It was never going to be enough to satisfy the protesters camping out in Pearl Circle in the capital, but the prisoner release, including a number of political prisoners, was another sign that the government is reaching out to the largely Shi'ite population seeking economic and political reforms.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

The detainees were a bit overwhelmed as they were shepherded through a large excited crowd of supporters. Jafar Hisabi, who said he'd been held since mid-August without charge, said he owes his freedom to the people who stood up and demanded their rights

Mr. JAFAR HISABI: Because of these people, because of all of these people, otherwise we've been held and we've been killed without any notice from anyone. I would say thank you, thank you, thank you forever for this kind of people. We have to be proud of them.

KENYON: The detainees men, women and children had stories of mistreatment.

AMER: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: 12-year-old Amer said he was in prison for six months for taking part in tire burnings. He said when the police grabbed and beat his friend in their village he started crying and said they were together, and they were both taken to prison.

Activist Abdul Ghani al-Khanjar was arrested after speaking in London about human rights abuses in Bahrain. He said the police came and seized him in his home after midnight. His description of life in prison matched that of other detainees.

Mr. ABDUL GHANI AL-KHANJAR (Spokesman, Committee of Martyrs and Victims of Torture): For all those six months they have practiced on us a degrading treatment and torture: standing for hours, sleep preventing, walking on my knees and hands, or saying that I am a donkey or any bad animal.

KENYON: The government released a statement saying it takes the allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and would thoroughly investigate any and all claims.

One of the better-known prisoners to be released is blogger Ali Abdulemam, who ran the blog Bahrain Online, which is banned here. He wasn't told why he was arrested last summer, but he says while being beaten his jailers wanted to know about anti-torture groups focused on Bahrain. He hopes a new chapter is opening for his country.

Mr. ALI ABDULEMAM (Blogger, BahrainOnline): I think that our freedom is not something they give. It's something we do it, we practice it, and the other side should accept it. And we shouldn't do our freedom in secret. It should be published and announced.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Abdulemam says his first blog will be to thank the people for speaking out. But he also said he believes in dialogue with the government if it's sincere.

Mr. ABDULEMAM: Always there is a time to talk, because you will not be able to understand the other side if you didn't talk with him.

KENYON: At this point the mostly Shi'ite demonstrators have developed no clear set of demands to bring to any talks with the government. The king, meanwhile, spent much of yesterday in Riyadh greeting Saudi King Abdullah and talking with top officials.

Analysts say the strong Saudi interest in keeping Bahrain as a stable and Sunni-led buffer against nearby Iran may play an important role in how Bahrain's leaders deal with this unrest that shows no sign of fading away.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News. Manama.

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