Camden refugee tortured as a teenager says it was his ‘duty’ to protest at DSEI arms fair
PUBLISHED: 11:23 25 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:42 26 April 2016
A Bahraini man living in Camden who was cleared of any wrongdoing for his part in an arms fair protest has told of the torture he suffered as a teenager and the crushing of democracy in his homeland – which he said compelled him to try and halt illegal arms dealing.
Isa al-Aali, 21, who lives in Chalton Street, told the Ham&High he laid in the road to try to halt the delivery of a tank to the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair because British weapons are used by the Bahraini government, assisted by Saudi Arabia, in the oppression of its own people.
He and seven other defendants were cleared of obstructing the public highway by a judge, who accepted their defence that they were trying to prevent more serious crime, saying the court had heard “clear, compelling and largely unchallenged evidence” that illegal arms dealing had taken place at every previous DSEI fair.`
Mr al-Aali said: “It was my duty to stand up against it, just as it was my duty to join the protests in Bahrain. I was very disappointed to see what was happening, that the British government was allowing it.
“I have no regrets about what I did.
“My regret and my sadness is that they let the tank in and we weren’t able to stop it.”
Mr al-Aali was just 16 when the Arab Spring of 2011 spread to his homeland, which is ruled by an absolute monarchy. Having been aware since childhood of the lack of democratic rights in his country, he took to the streets to join the largely peaceful protests.
But he experienced the brutal force of Bahraini government oppression in 2013 when he was arrested and beaten to a pulp by police, who he said threatened to cut off his penis with a knife in order to extract confessions from him.
He said: “I was walking home by myself after a protest when 12 jeeps pulled up beside me. One of the officers put a gun to my head and told me that all the bullets were for me unless I went with them.
“Of course, I was terrified. Many of my friends had been tortured and I had seen them afterwards with missing eyes and teeth.”
Isa said he was taken away with his head covered, and beaten with fists, batons, guns and other weapons because he wouldn’t give out information – which he didn’t have – on other protesters.
He said: “One police officer took off my clothes and took out a knife...he said he would cut off my penis if I didn’t tell him where the others were hiding.
“He was pressing the knife so hard that I thought he had cut it. But then another police officer came in and then he stopped, and they beat me up more instead.”
After this, Isa signed a false confession to arson, and was imprisoned for four months before paying bail money.
He was tortured and imprisoned on two further occasions after he refused to become a state informant before fleeing to the UK via Dubai.
Isa was held in Harmondsworth detention centre for six months before he was eventually granted asylum after a high-profile campaign by the Bahraini Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).
When he heard about the DSEI arms fair – where delegates are invited from some of the world’s most oppressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – he joined the protest.
He did not know the other seven defendants before their arrest last September, but said he now feels bonded to them “for life”.
He said: “It is good to know that British people and others from around the world will stand up for my people, even if the British government is giving the green light for the sale of these weapons to Saudi, Bahrain and other countries like Israel and Turkey, who will use them against innocent men, women and children.”
He believes that Britain should cut off diplomatic relations with Bahrain, and that Parliament should take notice of this judgement and crack down on the sale of arms to the country.
Isa now works and studies in Camden, and said he can never envisage a time when it will be safe for him to return to Bahrain.
He said: “They would kill me if I went back... of course I miss my family, my parents, my little brothers and sisters. My body is far from Bahrain, but my heart is still there.”
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