Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): "I was against the idea of forming an opinion accepted by the regime or people. I wrote down every critical view that came to my mind, and did not leave any word unspoken, so I would not suppress myself. What is a revolution if not this?"
This is how Bahraini "Tweeter" Takrooz (Hussein Mahdi) explains his expression of harsh criticism against the ruling Bahraini regime. He is one of the most prominent activists on Twitter that appeared during the February 14, 2011 uprising. A few months ago, a court sentenced him in absentia to 5 years in prison, also fining him 10,000 Bahraini dinars.
However, Takrooz, who worked as a flight attendant for Gulf Air before being dismissed, flew with freedom before being dragged into the cage again. He spent 11 months in prison, before he was released while his trial continued.
Takrooz was outside Bahrain before he was arrested the first time. He fled after he felt threatened by the regime that was doing its best to figure out who the owner of his Twitter account was. Despite his concern, he returned after receiving a call from Gulf Air telling him he had his job back. It was a trap; and the intelligence were waiting for him.
Takrooz is now in Europe, seeking asylum in one of its countries.
Bahrain Mirror met with Hussein Mahdi (born 1971), or Takrooz, who for the first time openly revealed his identity, and talked to him about his account and his harsh criticism of the ruling regime in Bahrain. Bahrain Mirror also spoke to him about his departure from Bahrain, his return, arrest, experience in prison, his final departure from Bahrain, and other details.
Who is Takrooz? Can you Introduce yourself?
Takrooz is a state not a person. It is a state of rage and rebellion that represents an oppressed generation living under restrictions, lack of justice, and the brutality of a regime. I never was a special person, and I never wanted to be. It is important that people know who is Takrooz the rebellious "Twitter" account, and not the person behind it.
Takrooz seems to be a very strange name. Why this name in particular?
The name seemed sarcastic and tangy when I was picking a nickname for the account. My friend and I used to call each other "Takhrooz" when we were to ridicule one another for some reason. So, this name came to me at first.
In previous Tweets, you said you only became interested in politics after February 14, 2011. How did this interest come to be?
Not exactly, I was interested or rather worried about politics. I marched in all opposition demonstrations before the opposition entered parliament. When they announced their will to join the parliament, I mocked them on the inside, and retreated from the demonstration. I was looking for an alternative that is more adherent to its principles, and that was the revolution.
I entered in the midst of the revolution and was caught by its waves the second day on February 15 that is the day Martyr Ali Mushaima's funeral procession was held. I was a drop in the sea of the revolution, which reached the Pearl Roundabout.
You seem like a very harsh critic of the authorities, and sometimes society. Why did you choose to express harsh criticism?
Twitter gives you a larger space to express what is going on in your mind, and what you feel. Even if the regime was tolerant with the opposition and did not arrest them for their opinions, I would have chosen to have a anonymous account. Regarding the harsh criticism, I think we have been through far harsher circumstances. I was against the idea of forming an opinion accepted by the regime or people. I wrote down every critical view that came to my mind, and did not leave any word unspoken, so I would not suppress myself. What is a revolution if not this?
According to a Bahrain Watch Report, your Twitter account was the most prominent target the intelligence wanted to shut down. How did you deal with this?
I realized I was monitored and targeted by the regime agencies. I receive dozens of threats through my twitter account messages that I will be arrested. They used to send me dozens of espionage links in order to figure out who the owner of the account is. I may have opened several links without noticing. I wasn't careful enough, and I believed, and still do, that [freedom of] speech is a basic human right, and cannot be given up.
When did you leave Bahrain? Why did you come back and get arrested?
I left Bahrain in 2013 because I sensed threats were more imminent. I came back around a year after. I had a 90% feeling that I would be arrested when I return home, and I did anyway. I went back because I wanted to, and after I was promised my old job back. They found me another job in the Dry Dock prison, after they arrested me at the airport and directly took me to the investigations department.
How were your interrogations? Were you tortured?
For those who live in Bahrain, the methods of interrogation are no secret. The interrogator asked me: Do you know me? I said: No. He, then, said: I am famous on all social media platforms as the torturer Fawaz al-Samim, haven't you heard of me?
I was subjected to humiliation, verbal abuse, beatings, and was threatened with electric shocks and sexual assault. Fabrication of charges and many other psychological and physical torture methods were used against me, not to mention deprivation of sleep and food. The public prosecution is merely another ring in the chain that should be fastened around your neck.
What prison were you in? How long did you stay? And did other detainees know you were Takrooz?
I was held in the Dry Dock prison for about 11 months, after which I was released as my trial continued. The prison experience was tough because it denies you your basic rights, on top of which is freedom. One is deprived of health care. There is a lack of hygiene that causes the spread of skin diseases. I don't deny that some prison guards were nice, and that is normal and expected from any decent human being. However, when you get a disdainful guard, then he will turn your prison to hell, and make you forget all the kindness of his nice colleague that had a shift before him.
During the last couple of months I reconciled with prison, and created my own world. I took good care of my bed, I washed my linens constantly fearing bedbugs, and everyday I'd go outside to the prison yard. Books were hard to get into prison, so I used to enjoy reading the English dictionary until a new book arrived. We talked during nights and exchanged stories and jokes. When I remember those nights now, I remember them as beautiful nights full of innocent laughter, but loud coming from the heart.
How was your experience with prison?
The cruelest thing in prison is when a group of detainees come back from court, the oldest being less than 22 years of age, and sentenced up to 15 years in prison. What's crueler is when we had to say goodbye when they transferred them to Jaw Prison.
We bid farewell to dozens of young men weekly, after they were convicted in court, some with more than a dozen years of harsh sentences.
Jaafar was the one to make the call for prayers (Adhan). His voice was so magical and captivating. He was sentenced to life in prison. When we gathered to say our goodbyes, I asked him to say Adhan one more time before he left. When he said goodbye to everyone, and as he went to the main gate with guards and police waiting for him to take him to Jaw Prison, he turned around and began to say the Adhan, in a way that made everyone cry. I even think the policemen were touched during that incident. There was an Arab-Christian inmate who was imprisoned over criminal charges. He said goodbye to many of the young men before, but he told me he cried a lot when Jaafar left, and that he would miss his Adhan.
How did you say your goodbyes?
"We beseech you O Abu Fadel (figure revered by Shia Muslims)
We beseech you to drive away the worries of those who love you.
We are all standing at your door,"
This is how we used to say goodbye to them when they were being taken to another prison.
How did you leave prison? Did you stay in the country or leave immediately?
About one month after my release from prison, I traveled to Thailand, but I still was not at ease, because I felt I was still in the circle of threat there in case I was convicted. I chose to travel there because I like warm weather and nature, but it seems countries located in cold climates were the ones that could provide warmth to me despite their coldness.
What do you say to those who remained active on Twitter all those years?
If we lose our right to speak, then we will not have anything else left. Do not stop speaking up on social media networks and forums or anywhere. Keeping mouths shut is the last stage of oppression.
Do you think freedom of expression will someday be given to the Bahraini people?
The people of Bahrain attained their freedom of expression in February 2011, and it is their duty not to abandon it. They have voiced against the regime the harshest of criticism and condemnation, 1% of which the regime never expected to hear during its time.