Bahrain to Announce Additional Verdicts in Medics Cases
Washington, DC – Tomorrow, July 4, another 28 Bahraini medics are expected to hear verdicts in their cases with decisions that could carry sentences of up to three years in jail. The medics were prosecuted for treating injured protestors last year. Some of them spoke to the international media, giving details of the violent government crackdown. “These medics have been targeted for doing their job, telling the world what was happening, or just for being perceived as associated with the protests,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who attended a March 11, 2012, trial session in this case. “The charge sheets include ‘crimes’ such as inciting hatred against the regime and taking part in an illegal gathering. They were just doing their jobs as medics.” The 28 medical professionals in this case include nurses, consultants, surgeons and ambulance drivers. Another 20 medics who were sentenced by the military court last September had their appeal verdicts announced on June 14. Human Rights First spoke with a number of the medics awaiting verdicts tomorrow. According to Dooley, they told credible and consistent stories of having been tortured in detention last year. One female physician told Dooley that she was kept blindfolded for the first five days of her detention, which lasted for over two weeks. 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,” the medic explained. “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.” When members of the police didn’t agree with her testimony because it contradicted their accusations, she said they slapped her again. The medic was eventually transferred to military interrogators, where she reports the interrogators forced her to sign and thumbprint statements that she never saw because she remained blindfolded. Another medic awaiting his fate, Dr. Nabeel Tammam, is a leading ENT consultant in the region. He trained at the Royal College Surgeons in Edinburgh. “These court cases are just a political decision, a security decision to punish the medics for treating injured protestors and for witnessing the crimes of the regime,” he told Dooley. “Like others, my confession was taken under torture. These haven’t been fair trials,” he added. Bahraini neurosurgeon Nabeel Hameed added, “The medics were tortured and are in court now on baseless charges aimed at discrediting them as witnesses to what happened early last year, hence the politically driven fashion of justice towards the medics.” Dooley, who has authored four reports on human rights situation in Bahrain and has made several trips to the region since the uprising began last year, observes, “The charges against these medics should be dropped and they should be released unconditionally. They are being prosecuted on the basis of intimidation and tortured confessions, and should never have been prosecuted in the first place. This is out of step with the Kingdom’s claim that it will implement reform recommendations stemming from its own investigation of abuses.” Dooley notes that many of the reform promises by the Kingdom in the wake of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s investigation of alleged human rights abuses, an effort led by Cherif Bassiouni, have yet to be fulfilled. He notes that prosecution of the medics is out of step with this commitment, as are the following other areas of concern:
- JUDICIAL HARASSMENT: Bahrain’s National Safety Court, presided over by a military judge, convicted 502 people in 2011. Though the court no longer convenes and appeals have been moved to civilian court, the government continues to pursue charges against those initially convicted in the unfair venue. Among these cases was that of the 20 medics. Also included in this number are 21 prominent dissidents, such as Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who were convicted in military proceedings and sentenced to long prison terms. On April 30, 2012, the highest appellate court in Bahrain announced what it described as a “retrial” for this group. Human Rights First has urged that all those detained be immediately and unconditional released and that the charges against them be dropped. Several prominent human rights defenders have also been arrested and charges in the last few weeks.
- ABUSE BY THE POLICE: During Dooley’s most recent trip to Bahrain, he met more than a dozen people who reported being severely beaten by police in February and March 2012. Local human rights activists say that hundreds of young men have been taken by police to secret torture centers during the past few months. These victims explained that instead of being formally arrested and booked into a police station, they were grabbed by a group of riot police and taken to an alternative site or nearby house to be beaten for several hours. After the beating, police take the victims’ cell phones and money and then abandoned them in a remote location.
There are nightly reports of tear gas being used against peaceful protests and shot directly into people’s houses. The excessive use of tear gas has prompted The Office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to call for the Bahraini government to investigate the use of such excessive force. To date, it is unclear how the police account for the number of canisters they take per shift or how they report the number they use and why.
- RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS: Since the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report in November 2011, it has been difficult for representatives of human rights organizations and other international observers to operate in Bahrain. In January 2012, Human Rights First and other non-government organizations (NGO) were denied access to Bahrain. Human Rights First was admitted in March 2012 under a “new policy” that allows for only a five day visa that requires a local sponsor. It’s most recent request was also denied.