Bahrain: Fresh torture claims in medics' trial

Doctors and nurses allegedly beaten with wooden boards studded with nails

The Bahraini authorities must independently investigate fresh claims that dozens of doctors and nurses on trial before a military court were tortured in detention and made to sign false confessions, Amnesty International has said.

Relatives of the accused have told Amnesty that security officials at Bahrain’s Criminal Investigations Directorate forced detainees to stand for long periods, deprived them of sleep, beat them with rubber hoses and wooden boards containing nails, and made them sign papers while blindfolded.

One of the detainees, who was bailed last month, was slapped in the face while blindfolded, insulted and threatened: “if you don't confess I'll take you to someone who will make you confess”. The same detainee was forced to remain standing for hours, denied sleep and placed in front of a cold air-conditioning unit all night and then interrogated again the next morning while still blindfolded.

 "I was so tired that I kept quiet and only answered yes or no,” he told Amnesty. “After a while he gave me some papers and made me sign them while I was still blindfolded. I did not see what I signed, but I signed on eight or nine papers."

The trial of the 48 medical staff, most of whom worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, opened at a military court in Manama on Monday but was adjourned until 13 June. Some of the defendants have been released on bail but others remain in prison.

Before the trial opened, detainees’ were only able to communicate with their families by phone. Their lawyers had not been permitted to see them and were not allowed to be present when they were interrogated, first by security officers and then by the military prosecutor when they were held in pre-trial detention. The Bahraini authorities ignored their lawyers’ requests to see their clients.

The doctors and nurses face a range of charges arising from their involvement in treating people injured when security forces violently crushed mass pro-reform protests in February and March. They are accused of misusing their positions at Salmaniya hospital to make false allegations of security force violence, to have operated on some patients unnecessarily causing their deaths and to have denied medical treatment to others for sectarian reasons, as well as a string of related offences.

A relative of one of the accused who attended the court yesterday told Amnesty that the prisoners’ heads had been shaved and most had lost a lot of weight since their arrest weeks ago. The men among them were made to stand in the hot sun for around 30 minutes before the session began: “They were blindfolded and handcuffed, and these were only removed when the session began”, said the relative.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

"The Bahraini authorities must immediately undertake an independent investigation into these new torture allegations and bring any officials responsible to justice.

“The court must also throw out any 'confessions' that were obtained through torture or other duress as international law requires.

"All detainees must be granted prompt and regular access to lawyers of their own choosing, their relatives and any medical treatment that they may require.

"The authorities must also ensure that doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health and medical workers are able to carry out their work without discrimination, interference or fear of reprisal."

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