BAHRAIN: Female teacher re-arrest exposes human rights abuse as others recount torture

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Women praying outside Bahrain hospital
Women pray for protesters who were injured after riot police stormed an anti-government protest camp, outside the Salmaniya hospital where the casualties were sent to, Manama February 17, 2011. Image: Lou Gold


On October 23, 2011 twenty medical professionals who had been arrested and charged with crimes against the government, including Dr. Ghassan Dhaif and  his wife Dr. Zarhra Al Sammak, had some of their charges dropped as they were summoned to appear in court. The charges which were dropped include: “incitement of hatred against the regime”, spreading false news” and “inciting others not to comply with the applicable laws or to do any act that constitutes a crime.” The twenty  professionals charged do continue to face other charges by the court which include “calling for the overthrow of the regime by force.”

Washington D.C. based agency Human Rights First reports that Jaleela Al Salman was released, for the second time from prison, by Bahrain authorities on November 1. It is uncertain whether or not congressional appeal for a U.S. delay in arms sales to Bahrain and/or international media pressure contributed to this release. “Jaleela’s release is welcome news, but her case and the high profile cases of the Bahraini medics are just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless less famous people who have been tortured and sentenced and who remain jailed after unfair trials,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who spoke to Al Salman via Skype just days before her most recent arrest.


(WNN) Manama, BAHRAIN: Without proper jurisdiction and legal rights, school teacher and Vice President of Bahrain’s  Teachers Association Mrs. Jaleela Al Salman has been forced to return to prison by Bahrain police security  following her official release from prison while she was waiting for the appeal of her upcoming case set for December 11.

Detained in prison without access to a lawyer from March 29 to August 21, Jaleela faced a Bahraini military courtroom on September 25, 2011 where she was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment on charges of ‘inciting hatred towards the regime.’ Charges also included calling for a teachers strike and attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force. During her days in prison Jaleela later outlined what she calls “beatings” and sexual intimidation under threats of rape that lead her to making a forced confession of guilt before she received her first official day in court.

“I’m not a politician,” says nurse and President of the Bahrain Nursing Society Ms. Roula al-Safar who had volunteered, along with other medical personnel, to help injured protesters on the streets of Manama, February 14, 2011. “I’m one of these people who will run (to aid) whenever there is a disaster,” Roula, who has now been sentenced to 15 years in prison, added.

“Suddenly the hospital was in chaos,” said Roula outlining events of violence against protesters that resulted in those injured being rushed to the hospital at the Salmaniya Medical Complex emergency room in February, causing it to spill beyond capacity.

Describing continued attacks of protesters, and two persons dead, Roula’s eye-witness account outlines her own arrest. “They did not read our warrants (for arrest),” she said. “They did not tell us what we are accused of for 2 or 3 days of continuous beating,” she describes during a Skype interview with Brian Dooley from the international advocacy group Human Rights First, an international agency that works to protect human rights defenders.

Bahrain’s democracy protests have been one of the largest continuing movements in the Middle East where protesters have steadily asked for human rights. Extreme violence against protesters has resulted in deaths as well as the disappearance of others. The count of those who have died is hard to determine officially but comes with eye-witness reports stating that 4 to 50 persons have died and with 1,000+ protesters injured.

“At least 35 people have now been killed since anti-government protests began,” says the October 25, 2011 update for a Motion for Resolution on the Situation in Bahrain by the European Parliament.

Under extreme duress, many of those who were injured on the streets where blocked by security forces. Others injured flooded the hospital in Manama to the point where medical emergency teams could not cope.

During the February violence emergency ambulance medics were attacked as they were trying to help the injured say witnesses to the events. In a formal statement made by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, following the events she outlined, ““The people of the Middle East and North Africa cannot be denied these basic freedoms. The protestors’ calls for justice, respect for personal freedoms and human rights, for legal and political reforms in this regard, are reasonable and legitimate.”

“We are calling for help from all the countries of the world… These are innocent people,” said eye-witness Dr. Ghassan Dhaif as he described the human rights abuses by Bahrain security officials as they used lethal force against protesters in the early morning hours to break up a February protest tent camp at the Pearl Square traffic circle in Masuma.

“We can’t even identify them (the injured protesters),” Dr. Ghassan outlined during an interview phone-call made with Al Jazeera TV during the February violence. “The ambulance can’t reach them,” he said. “We haven’t done anything and we are shot dead,” Ghassan added as he witnessed events. “The hospital is nearly full,” he continued. “We can’t identify them… We call for urgent help!”

Arrested and tortured on the days following March 19, Ghassan gave a detailed account of his arrest to Doctors in Chains, an advocacy group of medical professionals located in countries outside of Bahrain.

“I was arrested by a group of masked men wearing civilian clothes. I was back handcuffed and my face was covered by black bag tied forcefully at my neck in front of my family. I was taken to a room, beaten on my face, chest and legs without given any charges or reason for arrest,” said Ghassan describing the actions of what he described were 5 to 6 people in the room.

On the 11th of April Ghassan’s wife, anesthesiologist Dr. Zarhra Al Sammak, was also arrested.

On their release and later giving detailed accounts of their torture, forced confessions and statements of religious hatred and discrimination made against them, Dr. Ghassan and his wife received two separate sentences: 15 years in prison for Dr. Ghassan and a 5 year prison term for Dr. Zarhra. Charges in court claimed that the Dr. Ghassan had been involved in “Promotion to bring down and change the regime by illegal means.” Claims against Dr. Zarhra include “Inciting hatred against the governing regime.”

Other charges on arrest include that Dr. Ghassan had refused to give medical aid to Sunni Muslim citizens and that he was “Promoting sectarian hate.”

“I was convected of sectarian discrimination,” said Ghassan in a tweet following his release from incarceration. “I treated 1000s of Sunnis and people from Royal family for over 20 years, Isn’t it ridiculous,” he continued.  On October 23 an appeal to their cases has been made.

Even with detailed accounts of and media documentation of human rights abuses the government of Bahrain is not formally admitting to any wrong doing. “Bahrain is keen on promoting human rights and spares no effort to protect the rights of citizens and expatriates in line with international covenants and norms,”  said Bahrain Ambassador to Belgium Ahmed Al Dossary on October 25 during a meeting with the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Committee of the Delegation to the Arabian Peninsula at the European Parliament.

After going on a hunger strike as a prisoner of conscience during her 149 day detention, educator Jaleela Al Salman suffered under increasing stress from medical conditions. Upon her initial release from prison she received medical treatment in attempts to help her from medical problems that included an unstable heartbeat, spinal disc problems and high blood pressure issues.

On the day of her re-arrest masked security forces dressed in civilian clothing arrived at Jaleela’s home at 3:00am in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 18.

In a plea made by her family that a female security officer, instead of male officers, be assigned to bring Jaleela back to detention, she was brought under her arrest to the Isa Town Police Station by a female security officer.

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