Australian deported from Bahrain over Facebook posts

An Australian English instructor went to Bahrain to teach at the state-run Polytechnic University. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave the country for posts he made on Facebook.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Australian English instructor Tony Mitchell recently moved to Bahrain where he was offered a job at the state-run Polytechnic University. He described himself as a witness of the various horrifying events in the struggling country (see The Atlantic's four-part series). Mitchell was eventually fired, evicted, and forced to flee because of posts he made on Facebook.

Bahrain's government has been extremely thorough when trying to suppress any form of uprising. It has reached the point where the country is getting rid of anyone it can, just in case.

At the university, investigations began in May 2011. Bahraini teachers were being identified from photographs taken at demonstrations showing they had attended the protests: Facebook was used to display them and pro-government supporters were asked to identify the circled faces so that they could be traced and detained.

One of the non-teaching staff was arrested and severely beaten, but was able to resume work. Students were also victimized: some were arrested while others were simply expelled. The rest tried attending class by passing through various check points as they commuted from their villages, which were being raided by police who regularly arrested suspects and damaged property.

A few were called to the administration building at the Polytechnic and taken to the nearby military building where they were all put in a room. They stayed in there all night and were interrogated the next morning. Some were handcuffed, hooded, and taken away on a bus, never to be seen again.

Mitchell believed he was safe since the comments he had made on Facebook were not critical of the ruling family or the government. He said his posts simply tried to correct false or misleading information. On the other hand, he was unsure if he could continue working at the university if it was run by a government that resorted to unlawful arrests, torture, as well as identification from social networks.

Mitchell eventually received a text message asking him to visit John Scott, the Director of Human Resources, in the CEO's office. The Ministry of Education knew all about Mitchell, and the comments he had made on Facebook. A number of his Facebook "friends" had kept copies of his posts, and they were presented to him, although he insists none of them could seriously be used to show that he was critical of the government.

Since classes finished in four weeks, Scott allowed Mitchell to continue teaching until June 30. He agreed to not making further comments on Facebook, as he did not want the university or anyone from management to get into trouble for his actions. Here's how Mitchell felt about being fired:

I had been sacked from my job, not because of my teaching ability or for any normal disciplinary reason, but because I had taken videos and made comments on Facebook. I now had to think of my future after June 30, look for a new job somewhere and tell my wife that we had to leave our beautiful apartment and the life we enjoyed together in Bahrain. On the other hand, I felt a huge sense of relief that I had been freed from having to work for the Bahraini government and that I would no longer have any association with them whatsoever.

Despite his promise, Mitchell couldn't resist monitoring Facebook to keep track of the students that were being expelled. Some comments criticized Scott for the expulsions and for going back on his word that the Polytechnic would remain neutral. Mitchell knew Scott's hands were tied by the Ministry so he posted the following comment: "I will tell you more about this after June 30th."

Mitchell's Facebook "friends" immediately informed the Minister of Education and the next morning, on June 14, he was called to the human resources director's office and asked to leave immediately. The university had previously booked flights to Thailand for Mitchell and his wife. They were for July 1, but the university was willing to exchange the tickets. Mitchell asked if he could stay through the end of June as planned, but was quickly told he should seriously consider leaving the country as soon as possible. Mitchell and his wife flew out of Bahrain on June 23.

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