Content warning: graphic descriptions of violence
The following are testimonies of three survivors of medical mistreatment, negligence, and torture in RSCI Bahrain from the period of 2011 to 2018. These testimonies were gathered by the Global Legal Action Network in support of the survivors' for justice.
Mr Demistani a senior nurse who was trained in Bahrain and was formerly deputy head of the Bahrain Nurses Society.
During the violent response of the government of Bahrain to the 2011 Arab Spring protests Mr Demistani treated injured protesters. Following one protest, police surrounded and shot at paramedic crews, protestors, and doctors in the medical tent. Following government orders, police prevented ambulances from transferring the injured to hospitals, resulting in the deaths of four protesters.
Many medics, including Mr Deminstani, protested this violation of medical neutrality by taking strike action. Around this time his son was attacked by a police vehicle and a delay in receiving medical treatment contributed to his death. Days later, police attacked local hospitals and arrested medics on duty, including those who had not been involved in the protests. This included an Irish-trained Bahrani doctor, Dr Ali al-‘Ekri, was arrested while performing surgery.
Mr Demistani recalled that a circular issued by the National Health Regulatory Authority to Bahraini public and private hospitals in 2012. The circular placed an obligation upon all medics to inform police of their treatment of any protestor. According to Mr Demistani from this day onwards those involved in protests feared going to hospital, owing to the strong police presence and risk of arrest. A policy that is still in force today.
Mr E was among those arrested, detained, interrogated and tortured. He recalls that detained doctors and nurses were singled out by prison officers:
“Almost every medic suffered fractures in tail bone (coccyx) as the torturers focused on easy to break bones, such as the tailbone, hip and knee.”
Despite a court order obliging authorities to allow Mr access to a specialist doctor, this was prevented by officials. After a number of months Deminstani was taken to the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Hospital, a facility used for training students by the Irish university RCSI-Bahrain. Accompanied by military personnel her was taken to see a specialist, however after it was discovered that the specialist was from Mr Demistani's village, officials prevented him from receiving treatment.
The following year, while still imprisoned, Mr Demistani experienced severe chest pain. At BDF Hospital the examining doctor mead an assessment that an ECG was necessary, the accompanying police officers interfered with this treatment, and asked the doctor to cancel the ECG exam. According to Mr Demistani "The doctor essentially changed his opinion and stated there was nothing wrong with me" and was returned to prison without treatment or a proper examination.
Towards the end of his sentence during a particularly brutal round of questioning where he was subjected such extreme physical abuse from police that he was no longer able to stand. The police officer who oversaw this episode of torture accompanied Mr Deminstani for treatment into Al-Qalla hospital. The attending doctor failed to conduct a physical examination or take an x-ray. Instead he was prescribed painkillers and “after going back to the Jau prison, I was directly returned to the torture room.”
Although Mr E has now been released from prison, he continues to suffer from severe pain resulting from torture and medical neglect. He requires strong painkillers daily in order to function.
Mr Ebrahim Demistani
While DM was working as a medic in Bahrain, protests erupted in a number of villages. Many civilian protesters were killed and injured by police. Owing to the strong security presence in hospitals, many of the injured protestors were afraid to seek treatment in public hospitals and private clinics. DM chose to secretly treat the injured, and those in hiding.
DM had not participated in protests. Despite this, he was arrested, detained, interrogated and tortured for providing protesters with medical care.
“I was made the subject of different acts of torture, including being made stand for 24 hours without water and food. When other detainees asked for water, they were insulted and given urine to drink.”
During his interrogation, officials partially stripped DM, blindfolded him and subjected him to torture. He was beaten, sexually abused, and threatened with electrical shocks. Fearing continued abuse and torture, DM admitted to helping the wounded during protests.
DM was denied both access to a lawyer and communication with family members. When he was eventually granted permission to contact his family, DM was prevented from speaking freely under threat of further torture.
“At the prison I saw how political prisoners were discriminated for medical treatment by the authorities. Before being treated, the doctors would first ask for the reasons for their detention and this would result in political prisoners receiving sub-standard care… Medical treatment was often denied or severely delayed.”
“When I arrived at the doctor’s examination room, I was first asked about the reason for my detention by prison doctor.”
While in prison, DM suffered several serious injuries and required medical treatment. In spite of his condition, DM was handcuffed tightly when brought to the prison clinic.
“The clinic doctor opposed this situation again because of the seriousness of the injuries. Nevertheless, the prison officers insisted that I would stay there and asked the doctor just stop the bleeding.”
Due to the severity of his injuries, the prison doctor recommended that DM be transferred to a hospital. On being brought to the prison’s reception, an official asked about DM’s case, and prevented the hospital transfer. DM was then returned to the prison clinic and handcuffed to the bed.
DM was not offered any further treatment. Several weeks later, DM was referred to a specialist in an external hospital affiliated with RCSI-Bahrain. However, once transferred to hospital, DM was not seen by a specialist as intended as the doctor insisted that his injuries were not serious enough. DM was immediately transferred back to prison. This denial of medical treatment has had lasting impacts on DM’s health.
On finally being released from prison, DM learned that a state official had ordered that he be fired from his place of work. As charges were never officially brought against DM, he is entitled to a certificate of good standing from the state. However, this was never issued, greatly damaging his employment prospects.
“I was not issued with any documents confirming the reasons for my termination. Being deprived of key documentation, private hospitals did not accept me for employment even after attending interviews.”
Dr M, a doctor working in Bahrain
“I felt that the doctors were conspiring against me together with the police officers who were accompanying me…”
“I felt humiliated and treated as if I deserved to be dead especially because of the spot they set for me to take treatments… located almost inside the bathrooms and on the stairs, where whenever a patient, medic or even a guest wanted to go through the stairs or to the bathroom, had to walk through my treatment session.”
Mrs E suffered from medical neglect in several RCSI-affiliated hospitals. She was given injections without sterilization several times, often while unconscious. Police officials regularly interfered with Mrs E’s treatment. At one stage, officers directed doctors to ‘hide’ her away from other patients in the emergency department as Mrs E is well known for her activism, and officials did not want her to be recognized in her poor condition.
“…there have always been 4 police officers accompanying me during the medical session... I would ask doctors repeatedly to tell them to leave, but the doctors would say it is not their decision.”
These privacy violations continued during Mrs E’s treatment, with officers demanding their presence as she detailed her condition and experiences to doctors.
When attending an appointment for a women’s health examination, two male police officers attempted to accompany Mrs E. She refused, citing her right to privacy. However, the doctor refused to instruct the officers to leave completely. Instead, police stood just outside the curtain surrounding Mrs E - a traumatic event in the context of the sexual assault she had suffered at the hands of police officers.
“I was still deeply traumatized by my previous sexual assault by the police officers, which made it worse for me for their appearance during such examination. I informed the doctor with this information, the doctor told me that she had read about it in the news but questioning its validity, accusing me of lying to news outlets.”
Mrs E, a human rights activist
Mrs E is a human rights activist documenting the abuse, torture and deaths of activists in Bahrain. Having been arrested on account of her work, Mrs E was physically and sexually assaulted during her interrogation by prison officers.
Upon her release, Mrs E feared seeking treatment in a hospital and decided to attend a private clinic. Staff at the clinic informed Mrs E that they would be at risk were they to accurately record the cause of her injuries as torture. Rather than claim her injuries had not been caused by police officials, Mrs E chose to forego treatment.
After several periods of arrest and detention, Mrs E went on hunger strike to protest her situation. On several occasions, Mrs E’s health deteriorated drastically, and she was sent either to the prison clinic or to an RCSI-affiliated hospital. Officials would not permit Mrs E to attend a private clinic, as was her preference, as she was ‘under heavy guard’.
In one instance, Mrs E was handcuffed on being brought to the RCSI-affiliated hospital. She states that doctors would not disclose her medical status, claimed medication was unavailable, and refused to refer her to another doctor.