At 5:15 AM on January 2nd, fifteen riot police stormed the Muharraq, Bahrain, home of seventeen year-old Ameer Fathi and arrested him.
Ameer suffers from bladder and kidney ailments as well as epilepsy and severe sleep apnea. His sleep is monitored nightly by family members to ensure his breathing remains normal.
Ameer left the Matam around 10:00 PM and visited relatives with his mother, returning home at 12:30 AM on January 2nd. There is no eyewitness account or other record of Ameer having any contact with police or government authorities during the previous day. Ameer's whereabouts during the day are also corroborated by non-family members who were with him or saw him.
(Bahrain's ruling class is from the Sunni minority. Hammad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a Sunni, became the Emir of Bahrain in 1999. In 2002, he declared himself the first King of Bahrain. In the spring of 2011, members of the Shi'a majority demanded more power within the Sunni-led minority government. At that time the government began it's crackdown on the majority protesters, including mass arrests without cause.)
At 7:00 AM on January 2nd, Ameer's father arrived at the Muharraq police station to see his son and find out why he was arrested (Ameer's father also suffers from a heart ailment). Ameer's father was able to get a glance at his son from a distance, but was not allowed to speak to him or contact him in any other way. Several hours later the police told Ameer's father that his son would be taken to court on the 3rd and that he could see him then.
On the morning of the 3rd, Ameer's father attended court along with the families of other boys who were arrested around the same time as Ameer (it is unclear how many -- or if any at all -- of the other boys also attended the ceremony at the Matam on the first). Ameer was not present in court. His father inquired as to his whereabouts and was told he was "in the hospital." He was given no other details. That evening the family again requested information on Ameer's condition, but were given no information.
The next morning the family was told that Ameer was in the infirmary at the jail and he would be detained for 45 days. Ameer did finally call his family that evening (January 4) and stated that he was "fine," although his mother told me via email that "his voice was not usual" and that he "was so sad and upset." He asked that fresh clothes be brought to the police station so they could be transferred to him at the prison.
After the family got word that Ameer had arrived at the Dry Dock jail his mother went to visit him, but the police would not allow her to see him. As of the early evening of January 6th, Ameer had still not been allowed any contact with his family other than the two brief phone calls. His family had also not received any updates on Ameer's medical condition.
It may be easy for some of us to dismiss this story as just another example of the turmoil in the Middle East. Many of us will avoid letting this story affect them because of cultural or political differences, but the fact is we are talking about a seventeen year-old boy in ill-health who was removed from his home by the police and whose family is being denied information about his whereabouts or condition. There are countless stories like Ameer's in Bahrain, and as Americans, we are tied to each one.
The situation in the Middle East is no longer front page news here in the United States, but that does not mean that families throughout the region are still not suffering at the hands of brutal dictatorships. As Americans, we are inextricably linked to the region through commerce and politics. The US Navy 5th Fleet is also based in Bahrain, not far from where Ameer was arrested and where he is currently being detained.
As a country, we cannot continue to allow ourselves to remain dependent on the vagaries of foreign dictators because of our lack of political will at home. To turn a blind eye to Ameer and his family, and to the countless others like them in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Iran, is disgraceful. Should we intervene militarily? Absolutely not. Should we raise our voice in support of freedom and follow through with the political and economic will to severe our ties with those who would arrest 15 year-old boys for no other reason than attendance at a religious service? Absolutely yes.
America still is the last, best, hope for personal liberty in a world that is quickly turning away from freedom. Our government needs to be told by its people that we will no longer allow our good name to be used to prop up brutal dictators because of political expediency at home and abroad. For every drop of oil we insist on buying from the supporters of Bahrain's brutal dictator (i.e Saudi Arabia)because we lack the intellect to develop our own domestic reserves, we share in the misery of Ameer's family. For every story like Ameer's we choose to ignore, we dig the grave of freedom just a little bit deeper.