Doctors and nurses put on trial in Bahrain last week told relatives that they had been beaten with hoses and wooden boards with nails in them as well as being forced to eat feces.
They were also compelled to stand without moving for long hours or even days and were deprived of sleep in order to force them to sign false confessions.
The Bahraini authorities have put on trial 47 doctors and nurses before a security tribunal, accusing them of trying to overthrow the government though they say that all they did was treat injured pro-democracy protesters.
Relatives of the health workers, who were allowed to speak to them for 10 minutes after the arraignment, said later that the accused alleged that they had been psychologically and physically abused during their confinement. One eyewitness reported that the health workers said that the worst “forms of torture were used during the interrogation in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) in Adiya. However, at the jail it was mainly humiliation and continuous verbal abuse with the occasional beatings, however not a severe and extreme as at the CID.”
The trial is a sign that the ending of martial law on 1 June is having no effect on the government’s repressive measures against the majority Shia community. The court trying the health workers, most of whom worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complx, has military prosecutors and military and civilian judges, suggesting that the announcement of the end to martial law may have been a ploy in advance of Formula One’s decision to stage the Grand Prix in Bahrain in October.
Prior to the arraignment yesterday families of the doctors and nurses had only been able to communicate with relatives by phone and their lawyers had not seen their clients at all. Eyewitnesses said the appearance of the doctors confirmed fears that they had been abused. Foreign journalists have been largely excluded from Bahrain, but an eyewitness gave me graphic details of the health workers’ condition.
“They were blindfolded and handcuffed and these were only removed when the [court] session began,” said the eyewitness, who wants their name to be withheld. The health workers were arraigned in two groups, some 20 being charged with felonies and the remainder with misdemeanours. The first group “all had their heads shaven. Most of them had lost a lot of weight. Most were either in casual attire or pajamas.” Some of the doctors are consultants with 20 years service with the Bahraini Health Ministry.
The lawyers of the doctors complaind they had not previously been allowed to meet with their clients but were told by the judge that they could do so after the session. They asked that the doctors be released since they had already been held for more than 60 days but this was denied. The trial was adjourned until 13 June.
Patrick Cockburn is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq