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Fleeing Bahrain: A blogger's desperate escape

May 13th, 2013
04:55 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Thor Halvorssen started with an idea: “We need to get him out.”

The target: Bahraini activist Ali Abdulemam, who for years had been in and out of government detention for his reform-agitating website.

Halvorssen, founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, realized that the only way to get Abdulemam out alive would be to smuggle him.

“It wasn’t so much as having one plan, as it was having a plan that would have many, many options built in,” Halvorssen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

He and his team consulted a member of the Danish Special Forces, he said.

Their original plan bears a striking resemblance to the Oscar-lauded political thriller Argo: Send an entourage of celebrity entertainers to Bahrain, get Abdulemam into the mix, and sneak him out on a private jet.

When it came down to the wire, the plan wasn’t needed.

Last week, Abdulemam was given a “now-or-never proposition” by someone in Bahrain. He got into a secret compartment in a car and was driven across the causeway that connects his tiny island nation to Saudi Arabia.

He was, of course, still far from freedom.

When Arab Spring protests first broke out in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent a huge convoy of tanks across the causeway to help stifle the dissent – more than two years later, the Bahraini government is still in power, having implemented few meaningful reforms.

So Abdulemam found himself in an unfriendly country, thousands of miles from his sponsors in Europe.

From Saudi Arabia, he snuck into Kuwait, from which he was smuggled by fishermen into Iraq. There, he took two flights to Baghdad and finally, last week, made it to London.

“You will not imagine how important … freedom [is], until you miss it,” he told Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

His captors in Bahrain, he said, were merciless.

“I cannot call them a human; they are savage,” he said. “They were enjoying torturing us.”

The prosecutors, he said, forced him and his fellow detainees to sign confessions, shouting down any attempt to explain themselves.

“Looking from abroad,” Halvorssen said of the political situation in Bahrain, “it’s very disappointing.”

Halvorssen said that many people he consults see it as a choice between “one set of crazy psychopaths over another set of secular psychopaths.”

It’s a false choice, he says.

“In either case, it’s not acceptable,” he told Amanpour. “We’d like to see non-violence lead to reform. And I think public exposure is absolutely crucial. And voices like Ali’s, who have not been heard of for a long time, are the sorts of voices of nonviolence that are absolutely crucial.”

Meanwhile, Abdulemam’s wife and children remain in Bahrain, subject to the will of the Bahraini government.

“I want to tell them that I love them,” Abdulemam said, “and I did what I did to escape from Bahrain just to reunite with them as soon as we can.”

In a response obtained by CNN, the Bahraini government said that Abdulemam's website has "repeatedly been used to incite hatred, including through the spreading of false and inflammatory rumors." You can read the full statement here.


Filed under:  Bahrain • Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. EdHawk

    What's important to him – the family he loves or the freedom of expression? I suppose he chose the latter. I believe in freedom and freedom of expression, but not at the expense of my own family, my wife and children and the despair they will have to face and suffer for the freedom of expression that I believe in. My children will only understand that their father has left them, they will not understand the 'freedom of expression' he believes in. My wife did not marry me to be left behind with children and run away because of my beliefs.

    But, for a man to sacrifice his own blood for the blood of freedom of expression and the ideologies of one group requires immense courage. Your triumph Mr. Abdulemam would be not when the government of Bahrain collapses but when such a government now or in the future concede to your ideologies and your views on freedom of expression.

    God's Speed.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:55 am | Reply
  2. Saudi Man

    Bahrain well never collapse bcause of some people who they do not love thier country and love IRAN , the Shiee are dangers people , you can not trust them at all, good for the country that one trouble maker left and we hope more do the same , Bahrain nice country and they have freedom alot , we enjoy it as Saudi when we go thier for weekend .
    Ali and many Shiee who paid by IRAN just shame on thier country.

    May 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  3. Moderate Bahrain

    Ali Abdulemam is a terrorist whose blog 'Bahrain Online' incites violence, sectarianism and acts of terror in our country. His blog has clearly stated the need for the support of Iranian Ayatollahs to the violent revolutionary movement in Bahrain. Guess people in the west would never understand the fact that all Bahrainis need reform yet majority of Bahrainis reject the calls for overthrowing the monarchy by a group of extremists within the opposition namely Al Wefaq "Islamic" Society which is run by Ayatollah Isa Qassim. How can the west trust such an opposition that is led by a sectarian Islamist ideology. We certainly want reforms but we don't want our country to turn into an Ayatollah democracy like Iran or a disastrous Muslim Brotherhood democracy like Egypt. Please think twice before glorifying terrorists, do some research and you would clearly see their anti-west and anti-america slogans raised in their friday sermons. Stop hosting them on your programs, you should know better.

    May 16, 2013 at 8:27 am | Reply
  4. Tefera Worku

    dear Ms. Amanpour,
    CNN is 1 of the finest Inter. NEWS Org.s.A forum like yours, This Week ( which We don\t get here), etc. are forums 4 hammering out differences and try 2 come up with sensible common ground.Without building a sensible consensus life in this World can be uncomfortable, a nuisance or worse. So, it helps to occasionally view a program like yours. As 2 Bahrain It's possible people there r fed up with the statuesquo. But, the Country has modern infrastructure, and access to various advantages prosperity brings, may be not in a desirably fair and equitable way. However, before tossing away whatever good a country has it's wise to make sure a better arrangement is going to replace it. I have lived through most of the Red Terror Era in Ethiopia.What replaced Haile Selassie's ( aka Ras Teferi ) regime is the worst we Ethiopians have to experience in our History. In the past 20 years or so Ethiopia is stable, peaceful and has embarked in a path that has registered a lot of growth and is still in a + direction. When people rose up against Haile's regime we were not prepared 4 the curse the hard line Marxist Junta that hijacked People's Democratic movement was going to visit on our Country. It took a 17 years 4 late P.M. Meles and his group led movement to get rid of the worst dictator Ethiopians had to live in. Bahrainis have to be cautious and build on the good they already have and reform it instead of violently rocking it with a much much worse bloody consequence. That is the lesson of living through a civil war, when several of my family members, colleagues and friends were among the innocent victims has taught me. An Ethiopian Mathematician + Writer, AAU, Rutg., SUNYA, respectively, Alum and an occasional junkie 4 programs like CNN's, from Addis.

    May 17, 2013 at 6:14 am | Reply

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