Bahraini princess accused of torturing detainees during unrest
Noora Bint Ebrahim AlKhalifa
The Times - Hugh Tomlinson Dubai October 3 2011
A Bahraini princess has been accused of involvement in the torture of detainees during the country’s suppression of anti-government protesters earlier this year.
Some of the doctors who have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for supporting the Shialed protests against the ruling Al-Khalifa family have alleged that Sheikha Noora bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa beat prisoners with sticks and a rubber hose, and gave electric shocks to the face with a cable.
The case against the doctors has provoked international condemnation of the Bahrain Government. The medical staff also allege that they were tortured in custody and forced to sign false confessions.
The princess works as an undercover police detective in counter-narcotics. Born into the third tier of the Royal Family, she is believed to be a distant cousin of Queen Sabika bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa.
A spokesman for Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority declined to comment on the doctors’ specific allegations, but said that all claims of abuse by security forces during the unrest were under investigation by an independent human rights commission appointed in June by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. Attempts to contact the Sheikha directly for comment have not been successful.
Ms Al-Khalifa is accused of torturing several doctors, male and female. Nada Dhaif, 36, who received a 15-year sentence last week, alleged that the princess had been involved in her interrogation in March. Ms Dhaif claimed: “She slapped me, beat me and called me a Shia pig. She put a cable in my ears and gave me electric shocks.”
Ms Dhaif has alleged that she was blindfolded during her torture, but said that there was only one other woman in the room, who was addressed as “sheikha” by the male guards.
“At the end of the interrogation, she took the blindfold off me and I recognised her,” she said.
Fatima Haji, 32, another detainee, said that she was subjected to ferocious beatings after she was arrested in April.
She has claimed that Ms Al-Khalifa searched through her BlackBerry mobile phone and found an e-mail sent to Human Rights Watch about her suspension from work.
“She shouted, ‘How dare you destroy the image of my country?’ Then she gave me electric shocks to my face,” claimed Ms Haji, who received a five-year sentence for her alleged role in the anti-government protests.
Ms Haji claimed that she briefly lost her sight after repeated electric shocks and was sexually assaulted by other guards. All the female doctors say that they were threatened with rape by male guards during interrogation. Bahraini rights groups have alleged that Ms Al-Khalifa tortured a young woman who had been jailed for reciting a poem criticising the King during the protests.
Ayat al-Qurmuzi, 20, a poet and student, was sentenced to a year in jail by a military court for inciting hatred against the Royal Family by reading her work at a pro-democracy rally.
She was released in July during an effort at reconciliation by King Hamad.
Most of the convicted medical staff worked at Salmaniya Hospital in the centre of the capital, Manama. The hospital was where most of the casualties were treated when security forces crushed the anti-government protests at the nearby Pearl roundabout, the focal point of the unrest. At least 35 people were killed.
It was claimed in court that the doctors had seized control of the hospital, took hostages and used ambulances to run guns and ammunition to the protesters. The princess is not the only Bahraini official accused of human rights abuses during the crackdown. Students have claimed that they have been threatened with rape by senior police officials.
A government spokesman said: “The Kingdom of Bahrain does not advocate the abuse of human rights. The allegations of mistreatment or torture of medical personnel and others currently in the courts for alleged crimes ... are of grave concern to us.”
A UN commission investigating alleged human rights abuses is headed by Cherif Bassiouni, a UN war crimes expert. His team of investigators will issue their final report at the end of this month.
The doctors’ appeal against their sentences will be heard by a civil court on October 23.
They are still on bail, and deny the charges.
The Independent: Doctor: 'I was tortured in Bahrain police cell'
Roula al-Saffar tells Patrick Cockburn of electric shocks and threats
03 Oct 2011
As one of 20 Bahraini doctors and nurses given up to 15 years in prison, Dr Roula al-Saffar recalls with outrage the tortures inflicted as police tried to force her and other medical specialists to confess to "a doctors' plot" to overthrow the Bahraini government.
"It was a nightmare," Dr Saffar, the 49-year-old president of the Bahraini Nursing Society, told The Independent in a phone interview from Bahrain, on the day that she had originally been told she would go to prison – a fate that now appears to have been briefly postponed. "They gave me electric shocks and beat me with a cable. They did not let me sleep for three or four days."
She was given only a single bottle of water to drink in the course of a week-long interrogation. Even being given permission to go to the toilet depended on the mood of the police who were abusing her.
She was horrified to see school girls in shock who had been threatened with rape by interrogators, and she still fears that some of them may have been sexually abused but are too frightened to admit it. She said: "They had bruises all over their bodies." In the course of her five months' imprisonment, she believes she saw as many as 250 detainees, some of them aged between 13 and 16 years old, who were thrown into cells with their injuries untreated.
She herself was dragged one night from the cell where she was sleeping on the floor "to a room full of men who were all smoking". She said: "I had heard the call to prayer so it must have been about 3.30am. They told me they were going to rape me there and then if I did not confess."
Never were there more unlikely revolutionaries than the doctors and nurses, all specialists in their fields, whom the Bahraini government claims had turned the Salmaniya Hospital Complex in Manama, the capital, into a base for rebellion. "We are completely innocent," Dr Saffar said. "All we did was to treat our patients."
Dr Saffar, educated in the US and with a long list of degrees and medical qualifications, is now waiting to see if she will be re-arrested to start her sentence before her appeal is heard on 23 October. She is not hopeful about the outcome, after spending 156 days in prison. "Knowing what has happened in Bahrain, they can do anything," she says.
Her imprisonment started on 4 April when she was summoned to a police station. She was immediately handcuffed and blindfolded. "There were beatings and electric shocks and a piece of paper was put on my back saying that anybody could do anything to me," she remembers. This went on for a week. She was made to listen to the screams of colleagues being tortured.
She says she was especially targeted by a woman police officer, a member of the al-Khalifa royal family, who beat her and used electric shocks on her. "When I first arrived [the woman] said, 'Welcome. I have been waiting for you since 2005 and you have been under the microscope'." This turned out to be a reference to a campaign led by Dr Saffar to increase nurses' pay and improve their working conditions.
The account by Dr Saffar of her interrogation and mistreatment tallies so closely with that of other detainees that there seems to have been a common procedure, beginning with seven days of severe torture, including sleep deprivation and confinement in a cell with the air conditioning turned down to freezing. One obsession of her questioners was to force a confession that she and other doctors had taken bags of blood from the hospital blood bank to give to protesters to pour over themselves, to lend credibility to false claims that they had suffered injuries at the hands of the police. These and other charges, Dr Saffar said, were completely ridiculous.
More recent interviews with the doctors:
- AlJazeera: Bahrain denies medic mistrial charges (video interview with 4 of the doctors)
- The Guardian: Bahrain doctors await the call that will send them to prison
- BBC4: Bahraini doctor 'tortured and threatened with rape' (audio)
- CNN: Video Interview with Two female doctors sentenced to imprisonment
- BBC: Doctor jailed in bahrain claims he was tortured
- BBC: Bahrain doctor says she is innocent in video message
- PressTv: Bahrain doctor shares Manama abuse
- Al Jazeera: From 'hero' to 'criminal' for Bahrain surgeon