Inside the Middle East
June 26, 2011
Posted: 951 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

Matar Ebrahim Matar, a former MP for the opposition party Al Wefaq, was born in Bahrain on May 3, 1976 into a well-known family. He was the fifth of seven children from his father's third wife. His father, a simple farmer turned wealthy businessman, had 11 additional children with his two other wives.
It is a big family that includes different political and ideological views, a family member said. (None of his family is named out of concern for their safety.) A family member described Matar's brothers and sisters as "leftists, Islamists, Communists, some...conservative and some liberal." Matar was brought up in an environment where politics was a part of daily life, according to a close friend.

(Matar Ebrahim Matar)

Before he resigned from the Kingdom's Parliament to protest the government's crackdown, Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people. Matar was one of 18 Al Wefaq MPs who resigned. As the youngest Member of Parliament, Matar is described as very intelligent by Khalil al Marzooq, another Al Wefaq leader who resigned. Most of Matar's family are active members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group, or the secularist Waad party. Two of Matar's brothers were detained in the 1990s, during a wave of Shiite unrest.
Now, it is Matar who is locked up. He is accused of "public incitement for regime change and deliberately spreading biased rumors, in addition to taking part in public gatherings," according to Bahrain's state run news agency. He has pleaded not guilty.

His family said he was a shy, but bright child. He went to Al Razi primary school in Daih village – the sight of protests earlier this year – where his family still lives. He continued his studies at Jedhafs intermediate school and Naim secondary school. He was always a top student, a close friend of Matar's said. He studied in Kuwait, where he obtained a Masters degree in Computer Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence. Matar left for Kuwait in 1994, the same year an uprising began in Bahrain. "Bahrain went through years of brutal crackdown on protestors just like now," Matar's friend remembers. The unrest continued until Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain came to power after the death of his father. "The situation in Bahrain calmed down and went through a quiet reform period as promised by Hamad," his friend said. Matar was away during this period, but "he was so concerned about what was going on in Bahrain and decided to contribute (to) any reform process that would help improve the situation of Bahrain," his friend said.

When Matar returned to Bahrain he joined Al Wefaq and helped establish the Bahrain Youth Center, which elected him to be the center's first president. Around this time he met his wife, Dr. Amal Habib. The two were married in 2003. With Amal, "He was very polite and shy," a family member said. "Although when it comes, to politics he becomes very active and vocal." In 2010 he was elected and became an Al Wefaq MP. He was active in the society and people liked him, al Marzooq said.

Bahrain is a tiny Kingdom where a Sunni royal family rules over a majority Shiite population, who for years have complained about discrimination and called for democratic reforms. Matar was at the Pearl Roundabout during the protests that began in mid February. He also attended a couple of protests organized by Al Wefaq during the ensuing unrest. Bahrain declared Martial law on March 15, which was followed by a crackdown by the authorities. At least 1,000 people are believed to be in detention. Matar was at the protests because he just doing his duty as a politician to defend people, to call for their rights, al Marzooq said.

Matar is being held with Jawad Fairooz, another former opposition MP, and others while he awaits his third court appearance scheduled for July 5. Matar was not at his second hearing on Tuesday June 21 for reasons that remain unclear. Guards at the court initially would not allow the family in, saying that Matar's name was not on their court list. The guards later confirmed to his family that Matar's trial would go ahead despite the fact that Matar was not there, a family member said. His lawyer asked to postpone the hearing, but according to his lawyer, the judge decided to proceed. The judge said Matar's case was a minor case so there was no need for him to be there, al Marzooq said. If it is a minor case then "why is there (a) need for him to be in custody for now two months?" Bahrain has not responded to a query about why Matar was not at his own hearing.

Armed men took Matar from his car on May 2, according to his family. His wife was with him at the time. He was in solitary confinement for at least two months from May 2 to June 12. His wife Amal, who works in the ophthalmology department at Salmaniya Medical Complex, was allowed to see him on Wednesday June 22 in accordance with a judge's order, a family member said. She did not take his children, Ahmed, 4, and Sarah, 3, to see him. She "thought it is better for them not to see their father in this condition," a family member said.

Matar told his wife he has not been tortured. A family member said Amal checked Matar's body to see if there were any signs of abuse. There were not. Matar also reportedly said that he had not been harmed. But a family member says they will not be comfortable unless they "see him released and given the freedom to express his opinion and views." Just because Matar said he is fine "does not eliminate the possibility of him being subjected to other kinds of mistreatment, like psychological abuse...We can't be sure that he is not threatened not to mention any mistreatment he might be facing," a family member said.

A human rights activist said that Matar was beaten on the same day he saw his wife. Matar’s visit with his wife was at court on Wednesday June 22, the same day 21 people were convicted on terrorism-related charges in connection with anti-government protests. The trial was denounced by rights groups. The 21 were forcibly removed from the court and taken to a side room where they were beaten by Bahraini security forces, according to Nabeel Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Matar happened to be in that side room following the visit with his wife and he was also beaten, Rajab said. The extent of his injuries is unknown. Bahrain has not responded to a query about the alleged incident.

There have been credible allegations of abuse in Bahrain's prisons. Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians for Human Rights told CNN previously, that his group could "attest to violent assault and defensive wounds on...detainees who have died in custody. We have analyzed photographic evidence of two such deaths in custody that are highly probably the result of severe abuse including blows to the face, torso, arms, and legs." Bahraini officials have said that they are investigating several security personnel alleged to have mistreated detainees.

The police also questioned Amal for six hours on June 19, according to her family. The authorities asked her about Salmaniya Medical Complex, which was a focal point during the protests. Government officials allege that some of the staff helped turn the hospital into a base for the opposition and denied some patients treatment. Human rights groups believe that the medical workers are being targeted because they treated protesters and witnessed gross violations of human rights by Bahrain security forces.

When Matar resigned from parliament earlier this year, a family member asked if he was fearful about not finding work. Matar said no. "‘The last thing I think about is money,'" the family member recalls him saying. "'People elected me to represent them and to defend them." It is unclear if Matar will have another opportunity to serve as an elected official again.

Posted by:
Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights

Share this on:
pray to Mattar Mattar   June 26th, 2011 1:37 pm ET

Mr Mater we are praying for and all the other peoples in Bahrain jails because asking for freedom.

we look forward to see you soon


James   June 26th, 2011 2:56 pm ET

That's what I call a MP. I noticed something wrong in Bahrain parliament when I saw some MP defend government rather than citizens while more than half of population are opposition as we know in Bahrain. Any way all opposition figure must be released including mushaimea, sharif and abdulwahab other ... Etc

Balbool   June 26th, 2011 5:16 pm ET

Matar was elected member of parliament, why did not stay to defend the people elected him. He resigned because he doesn't have his voice, he is driven by Alwefaq that was driven by Ayatollah Qassim, who is is driven by Iran. Got the picture.

Anonymous   June 26th, 2011 10:46 pm ET

Well that is the price we all have to pay for freedom... Especially when you have such a tyrant regime. God bless the free people of Bahrain.

Emma   June 27th, 2011 12:09 am ET

Thank you for writing about people who need to be remembered; a lot are unaware of reality because they do not see it on the news. Bahrain needs more attention...

Ahmed   June 27th, 2011 4:23 am ET

thanks #cnn for having Bahrain as a part of ur news. ..

khalid almahmeed   June 27th, 2011 7:19 pm ET

hahhahaaha just a joke report

Skorpio   June 30th, 2011 6:38 pm ET

The devil tempted Jesus offering Him all the kingdoms, their wealth and world pleasures as long as Jesus worhsiped him. The same thing does Islam to Muslim monarchs/leaders just like to the Bahrein's king offering him wealth, power and pleasures. These rulers appropriate for themselves 100% of their countries’ natural resources (oil), they can have hundreds of concubines, all kinds of orgies, and always have the last word on any kind of decision in their country. These monarchs exert absolute power, they can free or incarcerate their people at will without any questioning. Their only obligation is to serve and worship the Anti-Christ, extending his rule and spreading his Islamic teachings at any cost to the entire world, otherwise all his disciples risk losing their wealth, power and concubines.

slaaash   July 8th, 2011 8:09 pm ET

JOKE REPORT.. cnn you lose credibility day by day! hahaha

Tornado   July 14th, 2011 8:56 pm ET

What is really disappointing about CNN human rights reports is that it turns a blind eye at the crimes committed by the party (opposition I.e al wefaq or u may say Iran parrot ) in Bahrain which includes torture of Asian workers, vandalism, harassment of pro government groups, murder of policemen, attack on the education and health system. We need more sanity and sense in the future.

subscribe RSS Icon
About this blog

Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

Read more about CNN's special reports policy

Watch the show

Inside the Middle East airs the first week of every month on the following days and times:

Wednesday: 0930, 1630,
Saturday: 0430, 1830,
Sunday: 1130

(All times GMT)