Nazeeha Saeed about discrimination against minorities in the Gulf and in Europe

Nazeeha Saeed, a journalist from Bahrain who lives in exile in Paris and Berlin since 2016, speaks about the discrimination against minorities and the rise of right-wing, anti-democratic actors in the Gulf region and Europe.

Nazeeha Saeed © private photo

There are laws [in Bahrain] that are against freedom of expression and they are only used against the opposition. It’s not used when there is hate speech against women, LGBTI or migrant workers for example. I wish they were used for this although I am pro freedom of expression, just not the hate speech. The amount of hate speech, racism and discrimination against specific minorities in the Gulf and Arab countries is very high, unfortunately. […]

We are living in not the best times, when people of the right wing are rising everywhere. Many people in the Gulf support Trump. […] Germany is among the more courageous countries that say something against violations of human rights but they still sell arms and softwares to spy on the activists and the opposition to them. It’s an hypocrisy.

I would not say I didn’t face racism or discrimination here. But I think in comparison … Of course there is the Syrians, or ‘Arabs’ or ‘Muslims’ and I see the hate speech against them here and the government is not really doing much to stop this or to make them feel safe.

But I feel safe because I’m comparing my life now with my life in Bahrain. And since 2011 until 2016 I was waiting every day, every night – my body’s reaction was to wake up at 3 and hear voices that the police is out. They come to take me […] And it was also unfortunate for my mom and for my family, they were scared all the time when they saw a police car in the neighborhood. Even the neighbors: When they saw a police car they called my mom and asked: “Is Nazeeha okay?” […] And the way they arrested was not the most ‘civil’ way. … So I was not sleeping through for all this time. When I came here there were other reasons for not sleeping through like worrying about documents, being legal, having money to life and all of that but once all of these got solved I was appreciating that I can actually sleep. I can actually write my article without being scared. I’m talking and texting to people without being scared that I am monitored, or that I would be a danger for them when I talk to them. I still need to be careful not to put people in Bahrain in danger when I talk to them.

I faced discrimination as a journalist and as a woman, even as part of the ‘liberal minority’ in Bahrain. But it was natural for me.

Nazeeha Saeed worked as a journalist for international and local media in Bahrain for over 20 years. From 2011 she was exposed to state repression because of her journalistic work, especially on human rights issues. She was arrested and tortured for her critical reporting on the democracy protest movement, which erupted in Bahrain in the course of the “Arab Spring.” Nevertheless, she remained in the country until 2016 and was an activist for freedom of opinion and freedom of the press. In 2016 her journalistic license was revoked and a travel ban was imposed. She was sued for allegedly continuing to work as a journalist despite having her license revoked. As soon as the travel ban was lifted for a short time, Nazeeha Saeed left the country out of fear of further arrest. She first came to Paris to continue working with her previous clients. International organizations for free press work supported her in starting over in Europe and she succeeded in obtaining a right of residence even without asylum proceedings. She has been living in Berlin since fall 2019.

Nazeeha continues her journalistic work in Europe. She continues to write about the situation in Bahrain and the Gulf region, especially about human rights issues such as the situation of guest workers, women and LGBTIQ* persons. She also publishes articles on the situation in Europe, especially on exile life in Paris and Berlin. Nazeeha Saeed is committed to free journalism and gives empowerment and strategy workshops for journalists working in areas of political conflict. Because of her work she has become the face for violations of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion in Bahrain, which ranks 169th out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

In the interview she gave to the We Refugees Archive in July 2020, she talks about the extent of hate speech and discrimination in the Gulf region and in Europe. She diagnoses a strengthening of right-wing and anti-democratic movements worldwide. She says that the discrimination that she experiences here is easier to bear than the constant fear in which she had to live in Bahrain because of her persecution. Nazeeha criticizes the discrimination she has always experienced as a woman and journalist. Elsewhere in the interview, she also critically examines the categories into which the outside world reduces her both as a woman and as a forced migrant.

This interview with Nazeeha Saeed was conducted by We Refugees Archive, 15 July 2020.