BEIRUT // When Ibrahim Madhoon left Bahrain for Lebanon last month, he did not plan to be gone for long.
The manager of a transportation logistics company who also is a member of Bahrain's main opposition group Al Wefaq, Mr Madhoon planned to attend business meetings in Beirut for a few days, then return to Manama.
Five weeks later, he is still here, pondering the likelihood that it will be weeks, perhaps months, until he sees his two wives and children again.
"I am an exile. If I return they will put me in jail. Why should I give them my neck?" he said in a hotel cafe in the southern suburbs of Beirut. "I'm not sleeping, just thinking about my family. Bahrain is not a safe place for its citizens."
Mr Madhoon is not alone. In Lebanon, he is among of a handful of other Bahrainis; critics and opponents of the Bahraini government who believe they will be arrested when they land in Manama and whisked off to prison.
Saying the country faced an "external threat", the Bahraini government declared a state of emergency five weeks ago and invited a GCC force made up of Saudi troops and UAE policemen to help it restore order.
Last week, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the foreign minister, declared that security had been re-established on the island. While challenges remained, he said, they "only enhance our resolve to continue the building process in order to boost democracy and bring about more achievements".
Rights groups paint a different picture. Amnesty International last week described a "spiralling human rights crisis" in Bahrain, in which more than 500 people were arrested in the month following the imposition of the three-month state of emergency.
Although to his knowledge there is no warrant for his arrest, it is that number that worries 50-year-old Mr Madhoon. He and some other Bahrainis here have not been silent in their criticism of the security measures, giving interviews on satellite television stations and participating in seminars on the crisis in their homeland.
Sayed Jaffar al Allawi, 52, a political and religious figure, arrived in Lebanon more than two months ago with his Lebanese wife who was undergoing medical treatment. He said he made public statements criticising the government crackdown. Now he worries about the consequences.
"Most of my colleagues are either already in prison or are hidden … I know if I go back now to Bahrain there will be too many problems for me and my family," Mr al Allawi said, while at his wife's family home in the south Beirut neighbourhood of Bourj al Barajneh. Mr al Allawi, who is a member of the Amal political society - a key faction within Bahrain's opposition - served 18 years of a 25-year sentence after he was convicted on charges of trying to overthrow the government in the early 1980s. He was released in 1999, as part of the political reforms introduced when King Hamad came to power. But, according to Mr al Allawi, the slow pace of reform has not been to the liking of many Bahrainis.
"We want a new constitution and for the people to choose the system of government that they want - whether that is a constitutional monarchy or something else," he said. "I have even cried when I've seen what's happening to my people. Until there is reconciliation between the regime and the people that gives us a real peaceful situation, we cannot return."
Complicating the situation of Bahrainis here is their government's allegation - reportedly made in a confidential report sent last week to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon - that the Beirut-based and Iranian-backed Hizbollah has provided training for Bahraini opposition figures in Lebanon and Iran.
Mr al Allawi and Mr Madhoon said it was business or family connections that brought them to Lebanon, rather than political ties. According to Mr al Allawi, he and other Bahrainis in Beirut have only received "moral support" since their arrival in Lebanon.
Though he fears his politics may consign him to a life of exile, Mr Mahdoon makes no apology for his actions and beliefs.
Mr Madhoon and his sons Hamed, 25, Khalil, 23, Taher, 18, and 16-year-old Jihad had been involved in the month-long protests at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout. Like his party, Al Wefaq, Mr Madhoon was pressing for major political reforms, including the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. He arrived in Beirut just a couple of days before the security forces destroyed the protest camp at the roundabout on March 16.
Mr Madhoon claimed security forces raided his house on March 23, arresting his four sons. The family does not know where they are being held or on what charges, but his two wives have had brief conversations with them.
"Our sons simply said: 'We are OK. We're in Bahrain'," said Mr Madhoon, lighting yet another cigarette. "I'm very worried about them."
Since his sons were arrested, Mr Madhoon's wives and 10-year-old daughter have been moving between family members' homes.
"I am in a lot of pain. I can't go back and it feels like I'm in a prison in Lebanon," Mr Madhoon said. "But in this jail, at least you can talk. There, no one will be able to hear my voice. Like no one can hear my sons' voices."