BAHRAIN: Report alleges torture, calls for Obama, U.S. leaders to help
More than 800 people have been arrested in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain since mid-February. Most of the detainees have been Shiite Muslims who protested against the Sunni monarchy of King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa.
According to a report Tuesday by New York based nonprofit Human Rights First, most of those detained since anti-government demonstrations began in Bahrain have been arrested without warrants and held at unknown locations, without access to lawyers or relatives.
Those who have been released from detention, or family members who witnessed their arrest, told Human Rights First staffer Brian Dooley about how they or their relatives were snatched late at night by teams of masked men who ransacked their homes and robbed them. Released detainees said they were blindfolded for days, handcuffed and beaten, forced 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 healthcare providers have been particularly targeted by security forces, with dozens detained, human rights activists say, in part because medicine is a common career for Bahraini Shiites.
One female physician, who asked not to be named, was among those who spoke to Human Rights First, detailing her experience in detention:
"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.
"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 injured protesters]. 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."
Human Rights First officials called on President Obama, who is expected to speak Thursday about U.S. policy in the Middle East, to make reference to human rights violations in Bahrain and establish U.S. government support for the fundamental human rights of the Bahraini people.
"He should make specific reference to human rights violations and mention of at least one case by name, for example, that of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja," the group said Tuesday in a statement.
The group also called on U.S. officials to demand the release of protesters unfairly imprisoned in Bahrain, an end to trials by a military court set up under emergency laws, an independent inquiry by Bahraini authorities of widespread allegations of human rights violations and a special session on Bahrain by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
They also called on Bahrain's government to end "arbitrary detentions and disappearances" and "stop labeling its critics as Iranian agents" and protect Shiite mosques and religious buildings, some of which have been attacked or destroyed in recent weeks.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photo: Bahraini riot police and soldiers move in on antigovernment protesters March 25 in the western Shiite Muslim village of Malkiya, firing tear gas when villagers defied martial law by holding a protest march. Credit: Hasan Jamali/Associated Press.