- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is author of the Kindle Single Who Shot Ahmed? A Mystery Unravels in Bahrain's Botched Arab Spring, from which this excerpt was adapted. She is a former FP assistant managing editor.
At 3 .a.m on March 30, policemen entered the home of blogger Mohammed Al-Maskati, who had been covering recent events in Bahrain by Twitter (@emoodz) and video. The men were wearing masks, and didnt show ID; they didn’t say where — or for how long — they were detaining al-Maskati. Six days later, no one knows where he is.
I contacted one of al-Maskati’s family members — whose name we cannot use to protect the person’s safety — to ask a bit more about what happened. Below follows an account based on our conversation.
Al-Maskati, a dealer at a retail bank, started blogging and tweeting long before the recent unrest began. Once protests began in Bahrain, he would often go to Lulu roundabout to observe and capture the protests on video. "He’s not a part of any political societies — no political affiliation. He’s not even that religious — secular views," the family member told me. Al-Maskati had 5,500 Twitter followers.
Prior to his arrest, al-Maskati even began tweeting in support of the royal family’s attempts at mediation. Many of his tweets included the hashtag #WeWantCP — a show of support for the initiative of national dialogue initiated by the Crown Prince (CP). "A group of Bahraini youth were trying to push the situation back to the dialogue table, so they created the hashtag," I was told. Al-Maskati had recieved threats over twitter from accounts presumed to be supportive of the government. "One said something like: I know you and I know where you live, and I swear if you don’t stop I will have your family searching for you," the family member recounted.
Then, on March 30, one of al-Maskati’s friends and fellow bloggers, Mahmood al-Yousif,was detained. "It has been 19 hours since the arrest of @mahmood, in a phonecall to his family he said he’ll be kept for the day as a ‘guest..’"al-Maskati tweeted that day.
When the police burst in for al-Maskati, they didn’t say a thing about what he had done or where he was going. There was no warrant shown. The took laptops, a camera, and CDs.
The following day in the evening, he called: "He called and said he was fine. I asked again are u sure u are fine? He said yes and worry, they will let me out "later." I don’t know what later means. I asked, where are you? He said, I don’t know."
"I was very hopeful but now that its been 6 days … that hope is evaporating"
His family member expressed fear and frustration that they have been unable to speak and advocate on behalf of al-Maskati.
"I don’t understand why he of all people is arrested. He’s moderate man, passive role in the events, mainly just observing and tweeting, source of news. Not hardliner, no affliations. He only wanted a better Bahrain. …I’d say if hardliners got us to a bad situation, then certainly moderate voice should be encouraged rather than punished."
Asked whether al-Maskati’s call for dialogue was finding any resonance, the family member replied, "I think the government official statement says they are "committed to dialogue" but the "restoration of security and stability" is the priority now."