For the first time since his mysterious disappearance more than two years ago, outspoken Bahraini opposition blogger Ali Abdulemam has reemerged in public.
“I get tired from my phone so I switched it of no need for rumors plz,” was the last message the activist posted to his Twitter account on March 17, 2011.
That was two days after the government declared a state of emergency aimed at quelling an uprising demanding change in the Gulf kingdom. Suspecting he would be rounded up by the authorities, he went underground. There has been no trace of him until now.
The 35-year-old father of three said he spent two years hiding in Bahrain before escaping to London, where he’s seeking asylum.
“The time came for me to… help the uprising and to help people in Bahrain publicly instead of… hiding all this time,” Abdulemam told Al Jazeera. “I will not be able to work and to support the uprising in Bahrain if I’m inside the jail.”
The blogger wouldn’t give details of his time in hiding or when and how he left Bahrain, saying that he wanted to “protect those who helped me during the past two years”.
“Because of the support of the uprising and revolution in Bahrain was so huge, I didn’t find any difficulties for people to hide [and] support me.”
While in hiding, Abdulemam was tried in absentia in a military court with 20 other activists and sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges related to “terrorism” and seeking to topple the government.
Recalling his initial reaction to the sentence, he said: “Fifteen years for what? [An] online website? This is a joke.”
He decided to leave Bahrain on a journey that eventually led him to the UK where he already had a visa and, he said, access to global media.
The government has expressed its willingness to offer reforms and sponsored a fact-finding commission to investigate abuses during the 2011 protests in the country. The commission found authorities used “excessive force” against protesters, and “torture” that resulted in the death of five detainees.
International rights groups have said many of the government’s promised reforms have been unmet. And last month, Juan Méndez,the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, expressed “deep disappointment” with Bahraini officials for repeatedly putting off his planned visit to Bahrain.
“The royal family wants to stay above the law,” Abdulemam said about the lack of government reforms. “They don’t want to be equal with other people.”
Since the 2011 crackdown, dozens of Bahraini opposition figures have made London their new home. But Abdulemam said life in the British capital could never replace being back in Bahrain.
“I didn’t plan it, but if it’s the price of the freedom for my country and for the people I love to have their rights then I’m willing to pay.”