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Bahrain Interview: The Life and Death of 16-Year-Old Hussam AlHaddad

His cousin thought he had a bright future ahead of him. His entire family thought so. He knew it.

That future is now gone. Instead Hussam AlHaddad is in a graveyard in Muharraq, leaving everyone to wonder how a life so precious could be lost.

Shock is perhaps the first word that one hears when speaking to Hussam's family about his death. What's gripped them is a profound sense of helplessness at how quickly fate turned on him --- on Friday, 17 August, his body was carried onto an ambulance in Muharraq, after he was hit by shotgun pellets and then allegedly kicked and beaten up on the street by more than half a dozen men.

According to authorities, Hussam was a masked "rioter", involved in a "terror act" who put the lives and safety of Bahraini security forces at risk by throwing Molotov bombs at them. His cousin, Hussein AlHaddad, differs:

"He is the good son, you know."

Hussam was also a hard-working student, with an average grade this year of 92%. Hussain, who is 32, painfully recounts the last conversation with his cousin about the future. "I want to do electronics or airplane engineering," Hussam had said. It was an easy decision --- several members of his extended family were engineers, and his father worked with Gulf Air.

But the violence and oppression in Bahrain had already affected him. Two years ago during Ramadan, Hussam was arrested because of a small fire in a trash can near his house. After spending a month in juvenile detention, he was freed without charge, but he knew the risk to his future if he again crossed the path of the police.

And so the story of how Hussam died, according to his family, is in stark contrast to official government accounts.

As is customary during Ramadan, the Al Haddads had gathered at a Maatam in front of his grandfather's house on that Friday in Muharraq to pray and mourn. At about 9:30 p.m., a hungry Hussam decided to go to a cafeteria a kilometre or two away.

A few minutes before ten, Hussain's older brother Jassim called, but he was not able to convey the message in his state of shock. He phoned again minutes later and told Hussain that riot police had attacked Hussam. Hussain drove with Hussam's father to the area to find commotion, riot police, and an ambulance. They were told that Hussam had been shot, but he was in stable condition and had been taken to the Ministry of Interior's hospital.

The two men drove there, but they were told that Hussam was at the military hospital. When they arrived at that facility, they were held outside the gate for an hour and fifteen minutes. In their distress, Hussain tried several times to enter, but was rebuffed each time. Finally, they were told that Hussam would be sent in 90 minutes to Salmaniya Hospital, the country's main medical facility, where he could be seen.

The father and cousin drove back to Muharraq to wait. It was there that they saw news reports on Twitter from the Ministry of Interior of the shooting death of a teenager. Another cousin went to Salmaniya to receive the body, but was told to come in the morning. He was also informed that he would not receive a death certificate and that the body must be buried discreetly and without any mourning ceremony.

The family spent the night in disbelief and unimaginable grief, waiting for dawn to finally see Hussam - even if he was dead.

At 8 a.m., Hussain and Hussam's father went to the hospital mortuary, where they waited another two hours. They were told again that they would only be able to receive the body if they did not hold a funeral or publicize the event. Hussain remembers receiving a message from the head of Muharraq's city government, Salman al-Hindi: "He called me and told me to bury Hussam directly without a funeral. I said if you're willing to do it for your own kid, I will do it for Hussam, too."

Finally, Hussam's body was released after the painful wait to his family. It was soaked in blood and pock-marked by shotgun pellets, his back deeply reddened and swollen from where he had allegedly been repeatedly kicked. They did get a certificate, with the time of death registered as 10 p.m., about the moment Hussain and Hussam's father reached the spot where the teenager was shot.


Unsurprisingly, is family cannot believe the official account of the incident.

"When we got there, there were no fires to show that Hussam or anyone had thrown molotov bombs," Hussain said. They saw no damage to cars, no ashes, no blackened streets and no shards of broken glass. "There would be huge fires if they'd thrown that many molotov bombs. The place was clean. And the police didn't have fire extinguishers with them --- none. They just had guns."

However, disputing the official account in such time of turmoil - with Bahrain gripped in daily protests and violence - may not be possible. Hussam's family, though, is determined to take up his case internationally to find justice and closure. "We want to find the people who ordered the shooting; the riot police are just machines," his cousin said.


As his family weighs their options on how to proceed with the dilemma of how to carry on, they recall how Hussam approached problems. "He wanted to look at both advantages and disadvantages of things," his cousin said. When they spoke about university, Hussam listened intently to both the pros and cons of going into airplane engineering. He was not a person who impulsively jumped to conclusions. And when he made up his mind about something, he would usually get his way.


Hussain remembers one of those times vividly. "We have a blood donation campaign every year in Muharraq that we started seven years ago. When he was 13, he desperately wanted to donate, but we didn't want to get it from people that young." Hussam insisted for as long as he could, but when no one listened, he started to cry. The family gave way: he was allowed to give his blood to save lives.

And now Hussain reflects, "They killed him in cold blood."

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