Well over 800 people have been arrested since the middle of February. The overwhelming majority are Shiite Muslims who called for political reform. Typically they have been arrested without any warrant, their whereabouts kept unknown for long periods. In the overwhelming majority of cases they have had no access to lawyers or visits from their families.
Those who have been released from detention, or family members who witnessed an arrest, describe a common modus operandi by the security forces. People were often taken from their homes late at night by teams of masked men who ransacked the house and stole valuables before taking the arrested person to an unknown destination. Some people have been arrested at their workplaces.
Released detainees also described to Human Rights First a common pattern of ill-treatment, including long periods of blindfolding (sometimes for several days), being beaten while handcuffed, and being made to sing the Bahraini national anthem or to chant pro-government slogans. Several said they had been forced to sign something they were not permitted to see.
Doctors and other health professionals have been particularly targeted. Medicine is a common career for Bahraini Shias, who are prevented from employment opportunities in many areas of the government and other professions.
The main medical facility in Manama, the Salmaniya Hospital, was a focus of the government crackdown. The military claimed that Shiite doctors were siding with the antigovernment protestors and it occupied the hospital. Dozens of medical professionals have been detained and were still being arrested up until May 12.
Others arrested earlier remain in detention, like Rula Al-Saffar, an assistant professor at the College of Health Sciences and the head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, who trained in Pennsylvania and Texas. She was arrested on April 4. Others have been released and spoke to Human Rights First.
One female physician told Human Rights First how she was kept blindfolded for the first five days of her detention, which lasted for over two weeks. “First, a policewoman put a blindfold on me and put me in old-fashioned metal handcuffs,” she said. “I had to spend the night lying on the floor like that – cold, handcuffed, and blindfolded.”
She was brought for interrogation by civilian police officers after about 24 hours. “A policewoman slapped me, a two-handed slap on either side of my face and started banging me on the head with her fist,” she said. At around 5 o’clock one morning she and other detainees were forced to get up and shout pro-government slogans. “Male police officers were abusing us verbally, saying terrible things. Every time my name was called I was terrified, not knowing what they might do to us,” she said.
When members of the police didn’t agree with her testimony they slapped her again because it contradicted their accusations. Then she was transferred to military interrogators. After both interrogations she was forced to sign and thumbprint statements despite still being blindfolded and not knowing what they said.
On the last day of her detention she said a police officer told her to kiss a photo of the Prime Minster of Bahrain before being released. She, like many other medical personnel, has now been suspended from her job.
Another told Human Rights First:
I was taken from the hospital where I was working during the middle of the day. Four masked men came and took me for an interrogation. They blindfolded me and took me to the investigations office. They were verbally abusing me, saying the doctors at the hospital were sectarian, only treating Shiite patients.
Then they moved me to another room – I was blindfolded the whole time and a policewoman pushed me along the corridor for more questioning.
They wanted me to say that doctors took injured people for operations unnecessarily, they had very minor injuries but doctors made these injuries worse and caused death on purpose in two cases.
They said we wanted to make Bahrain look bad, to hurt its international reputation. I said no, patients were really bleeding badly, some from live ammunition wounds, and we didn’t make their wounds worse.
The policewoman started to beat me and she said ‘You have to go to the boss, they know how to get a confession out of you.’ They took me to another office – I was standing the whole time, about three hours. It was so terrifying I was hoping I’d die. You don’t know how long it will continue, what they will do next. You’re blindfolded the whole time – they repeat the same questions over and over and if they don’t get the answer they want they beat you.
So they took me to ‘the boss’ and he was alleging that I took drugs from the hospital to the medical tent at Pearl Roundabout [where there was a makeshift medical center for the injured protestors]. I said I didn’t – he said I was a whore and my mother is a whore and I was beaten very badly by the same lady. I could hear several men laughing and shouting at me not to cry. He gave me back to the policewoman and she continued the interrogation, all night long. They made me sing the national anthem and other songs saying the opposition leaders are crazy – they sang it and forced me to repeat it.
In the early hours of the morning they let me lift my blindfold just enough to sign something, though I wasn’t allowed to see what it was. The next day they took me to the military police and it was the same thing – interrogation and then I had to sign something else I couldn’t read. When I was being interrogated, the man in charge kept giving instructions to the typist – ‘delete that, paste that there, cut that bit and move it,’ and so on.
I was finally moved to jail where the other detainees were. At first we were separated from each other, and put with the common criminals, but then they put us together. They didn’t allow me to call my family. For one week I was begging them to call my children, as they were alone since their father was also detained but they refused and allowed me to call only after a week.
After some weeks they told us one evening about 5 p.m. we all had to go back to the Investigation Office. We were all terrified – we called it the House of Horror. They took us there, more than a dozen of us together, and we were called one by one. I had to sign a document to say I hadn’t been beaten. Then, about midnight, I was released.
Another woman told Human Rights First how her husband had been seized in the middle of the night by masked men. “About 10 men wearing civilian clothing and black masks forced their way into our house,” she said. “My husband was taken in front of my four children, who are still traumatized, eight weeks later. The masked men took cash, laptops, cameras, and cars from our home.”
She said the house was ransacked and Shiite religious items were broken. “There was no warrant, no explanation. They just came and took him. He was allowed to call us for a minute a few days later and has been able to call twice since. We don’t know anything more, and we haven’t been able to bring him clothes. He was wearing pajamas when he was taken two months ago.”
Detainees report having to run blindfolded into walls, being made to belly dance in front of their guards, and having to stand for hours at a time. Medical professionals told Human Rights First that there is widespread evidence of detainees who were beaten on the soles of their feet, beaten with lengths of hosepipes, subjected to electric shocks, and sexually abused.
Some people have simply gone missing. Hameed Abdul Ali, a 27 year-old man from Nuwaidrat Village, hasn’t been seen since March 16. According to eyewitnesses, he was shot and injured by security forces using shotguns during protests on that day, and taken for treatment to Salmaniya Hospital. He hasn’t been heard from since, though his family received a letter from the construction company where he worked saying he’d been fired.
Human Rights First spoke to two men who also suffered gunshot wounds from the security forces that day and were taken to the Salmaniya Hospital. One said he saw staff in the medical store being beaten by security forces as they lay handcuffed on the floor.
Another, Mohammed Bati, age 42, said five riot police were waiting near his house in Nuwaidrat Village when he went home on March 15. He said one took deliberate aim at him from about 7 meters and fired a shotgun. Bati’s body is peppered with buckshot wounds along his right side and arm. He was taken to Salmaniya but managed to slip out past the security forces after two days.