Amina al-Maidan has come to America hoping to find an answer for her son. Although she herself is a Bahraini citizen, she is appealing to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro —a Democrat who represents Connecticut’s third district, which includes New Haven — to aid in the release of her New Haven-born son from a Bahraini prison.
Tagi al-Maidan, son of Abdallah al-Maidan SPH ’90, was arrested in October 2012 in Manama, Bahrain. According to Salman AlJalahma, media attaché to the Bahraini embassy in Washington, Tagi al-Maidan was officially charged with attempted murder, intentionally setting ablaze a police vehicle, damaging a police car, possession of explosives and illegal gathering during an anti-government protest. In September 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Despite international concern over the fairness of the trial, expressed both by the United Nations and the U.S. State Department last year, Bahraini courts have already denied two appeals to the ruling. He now awaits his third and final chance at overturning the decision later this year.
Amina al-Maidan, who has lived in Bahrain with Tagi and her other children since divorcing Tagi’s father, said her son did not attend the protest at which Bahraini officials say he committed these acts.
“That day, in the area we live, it was impossible to go out to the place where the protest was. There were police officers, lots of tanks closing off the area,” she said.
During the subsequent weeks and months, Amina said, no evidence was ever shown to the family that substantiated her son’s arrest or his conviction in the following year.
“For two years I’ve been watching, and in the court they said the proof is in a video camera and in a photo. So we said, bring it to us and show us, and we will accept that. Finally, they tell us there is no proof. No video, no photograph. Only an eyewitness.”
Rachel Peterson, director of communications for Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain — the Washington-based NGO that has been helping Amina al-Maidan — said this practice is relatively common in Bahrain, where the courts sometimes pay eyewitnesses. She added that the man who served as the eyewitness in Tagi’s case has served as an eyewitness for more than 500 cases in the past two years.
AlJalahma said in an email that the court based its decision on eyewitness testimony as well as forensic evidence obtained from the scene of the crime.
“This case is one of many cases that involved illegal and unauthorized gatherings with the intent of targeting policemen’s lives and attacking them,” AlJalahma said. “The defendant’s actions resulted in setting a police vehicle ablaze while the policemen were still inside, and he then proceeded to attack the policemen on the ground resulting in the injury of three officers.”
Peterson said that the current situation in Bahrain stems from the Arab Spring protests that began in 2011, and that the government’s reactions to the protest have been strict in order to maintain control. She explained that although the press no longer covers the Arab Spring extensively, the situation in Bahrain has deteriorated, with thousands of the country’s political dissidents in prison.
Although Tagi al-Maidan’s arrest took his family by surprise — especially given that two of his uncles are police officers, Amina al-Maidan said — Peterson emphasized that surprise arrests often occur in Bahrain as a result of false confessions.
“We’ve heard this time and time again from prisoners who have been released — many times, officials will only stop the torture when a suspect provides names of others who are involved,” Peterson said. “So in order to protect their fellow protestors, they oftentimes provide names of people who are completely irrelevant to the issue.”
After meeting with DeLauro’s congressional office in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Amina al-Maidan said the meeting went well.
“They said they would see into it, talk about what they can do. I am hoping for the best as soon as possible,” she said.
Peterson said that although the State Department has been monitoring the situation and has made statements raising concerns about the trial, it has yet to take direct action, which, she said, her NGO is hopeful to see.
DeLauro’s office did not return a request for comment following Thursday’s meeting.
“This is all for my son, because he’s an American citizen,” Amina al-Maidan said of her efforts in Washington. “If he was Egyptian, I would go to Egypt. If he was Moroccan, I would go to Morocco.”
Tagi al-Maidan’s father, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, was not immediately available for comment.