BAHRAIN: Activist describes electroshock, torture by government forces
After reports this week of security forces in Bahrain torturing detainees, particularly medical personnel, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Mohammed Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights who has been working to document human rights abuses in the capital, Manama, and throughout the Gulf nation with international partners such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Q: What is your focus now?
A: On Thursday the first nurse got sentenced in Bahrain, his name is Hassan Matooq. He is also a photographer, he took photos of all the injured people who came to the hospital. They charged him with four charges: torturing the injured, illegal gathering, participating in a rally and also broadcasting false news. He was sentenced to three years.
If he has only four charges and he is sentenced to four years, we are very afraid for the 47 medical staff (in custody), many of them have more than 10 charges against them.
Q: Why are medical personnel being detained?
A: They helped the injured and they are witnesses. If the government wants to destroy all the evidence, it’s one answer -- you accuse medical staff because the main witness of what happened in Salmaniya Hospital, the number of figures of the injured and what kind of weapons were used at that time, was the medical staff. The medical staff know everything.
Q: Have you spoken with any of the medical personnel?
Q: How many people did you speak with?
A: More than 30. Six talked about the doctors.
Q: Were the doctors treated differently than other detainees?
A: Yes, they get more torture. Some doctors, a very famous doctor, we don’t want to announce his name, they forced him to dance to music and they filmed.
Q: Was that meant to shame him?
A: We don’t know. All of those who were released talk about the security forces forcing them to chant for the government. Some of them forced them to say bad words about another opposition leader. Some of them more than 10 days they were handcuffed with plastic ones, not the normal handcuffs, and blindfolded.
Q: There have been reports police used electroshock on the detainees -- did anyone tell you about that? What did they say was done to them?
A: Yes. You know an electric shaver? It looks like that but it is for electroshock. What was explained to us, it is the same size, the same style, but it shocks.
Q: How would police use that in interrogations?
A: They say they put it for 10 seconds, then they take it. Some of them, they say, they say they put it on sensitive places.
Q: Where would they put it?
A: On the back, on the head. Some of them they put it down in their private parts. But they don’t put it more than 10 seconds.
Q: Did they use electroshock on women too?
A: I didn’t hear that for women, only from the men. They have different things for women. Some of the women said they showed them torturing a man in front of them. Some of the women, they only let them hear the shouting of a man in another room and they told them if you will not confess, you will face the same thing.
Q: Are you recording what detainees tell you and what do you plan to do with that information?
A: We are writing it down and sending it to the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights. We urgently need immediate investigations of all these allegations of torture. Four individuals have died in custody. This sends the message that you need urgent investigations.
Q: Who are the four that died?
A: They are not doctors. One is a businessman, the co-founder of Al Wafat newspaper. One of them is a blogger running a political website. Two of them are protesters.
Q: Were they tortured before they died?
A: Yes, all of them were tortured before they died. I am not saying that without evidence -- we have pictures of their bodies before they were taken to the funeral. Their bodies showed how they were tortured -- they had bruises everywhere and they were turning black.
Q: Are you afraid for your own safety?
A: Actually, on April 9 I was with Abdul Hadi, the human rights defender, at his daughter’s place when he was arrested. I got beaten there and Abdul Hadi was beaten in front of me. He was unconscious. They released me in only half an hour because they ... recognized me. But I got afraid.
I get threatening calls that if I do not stop my human rights work they will kill me.
Q: What did you do?
A: I informed the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights. Abdul Hadi is among the 21 [opposition leaders] on trial. The second hearing will be Monday.
Q: Do you plan to go to the trial?
A: They don’t allow us to go to the trial. They don’t allow international organizations [to go]. We are actually trying to push the international community to take action about the human rights violations in Bahrain, to push the international organizations to investigate who is missing. Still we have people missing we don’t know about their situation, people arrested in Salmaniya Hospital who were injured and we know they need medical assistance.
Q: How many people are missing?
A: More than 26 are missing and who is detained is more than 900. We are trying to document every case. The problem is, we have a lot of cases and a few volunteers. Most of them are hidden because of the situation. We’re trying to work fast.
Q: How many volunteers do you have?
A: We are 10 in different villages.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photo: Ahmed Juma'a, 20, holds his 7-month-old niece, Marwa, as relatives welcome him home from jail Saturday in the western village of Malkiya, Bahrain. Juma'a was detained last week as part of the crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has netted several hundreds mostly from Shiite Muslim areas such as Malkiya. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press