In my career as a journalist I've interviewed lots of people who have been persecuted for political reasons. Usually they're eager to tell you about the causes for which they've suffered.
I've never met another one quite like Ghazi Farhan. Not that long ago he was just another wealthy businessman, part-owner of several posh restaurants and cafes in the wealthy Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.
But that was before the Arab Spring arrived. On April 12 last year, Farhan had just parked his car in a garage when he was waylaid by a group of men. Knocked to the ground by a flurry of punches and kicks, he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and pushed into a car. 10 hours later, when the blindfold was finally removed, he realized that he was in a police station.
It was a bewildering experience. When the uprising began one year ago, many Bahrainis gravitated to the mushrooming demonstrations against the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy. But not Farhan. "Politics is not my fight," he says. "I just want to have a happy life." If anything, he was pro-government.
He told his interrogators as much. He admitted that he had occasionally come along to watch the demonstrators converging on the famed Pearl Roundabout, the traffic circle that served as the lodestar of the marches. He didn't participate. But he also told his interrogators that he'd tell them that he had if it would help. Whatever they wanted to hear, anything, as long as it would stop the torture. But they didn't stop.
They beat him with lengths of rubber hose. They deprived him of sleep and forced him to stand long hours in stress positions. They threatened him with rape. They threatened to rape his wife or his mother. At times, still blindfolded, he was tortured in the company of other prisoners. Listening to them scream and cry, he says, was just about the worst.
Several other themes figured prominently in his interrogation sessions. One was religion. Farhan, like the majority of Bahrain's 600,000 citizens, belongs to the Shia branch of Islam. The Bahraini royal family, which has ruled this tiny country since the late 18th century, is Sunni.
You aren't a real Muslim, his interrogators told him. You're a traitor; you're a friend of Iran. The allegation confounded him. "What do I have to do with Iran?" he says. "We have nothing in common with them. We are a liberal country. You want to pray, you pray. You want to party, you party."