Nurse and union leader Rula al Saffar has been tortured, threatened with rape, and now faces 15 years in a Bahrain jail.
Her crime? Treating democracy campaigners who were attacked by armed police during protests in February.
The assistant professor at the College of Health Science and head of the emergency nursing programme is one of 20 medical workers sentenced this week in a military trial.
The jail terms are a typically brutal response to demonstrators who occupied the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama.
Rula spoke to Socialist Worker as she awaits the result of her appeal. She called for solidarity from health workers around the world.
“We are being punished because we witnessed
17 February,” she said. “That was the day they started using live ammunition on people.”
The medical workers all worked in Manama’s Salmaniya Medical Complex, where injured protesters were taken after security forces savagely attacked them.
“We worked for days as volunteers, without sleep, to treat the injured,” Rula continued.
“They came in suffocating from tear gas, their backs filled with pellets because they had been shot trying to run away.
“People came to the hospital because they saw it as a safe haven. We all thought that it was safe under the terms of the Geneva Convention.”
But after suppressing the demonstrations, the government launched a campaign of persecution against the medical professionals inside Salmaniya.
The charges against the medics make a strange mix.
“The court accused me of organising a coup d’etat,” said Rula.
“They say I took blood from the blood bank and smeared it on protesters to make it look like they had been injured.”
No exaggeration of the repression is necessary. Since the protests began in February around 40 people have been killed and thousands injured.
Some 47 medics were arrested in total and detained without trial for several months. Many, including Rula, say they were tortured.
She said, “For the first week I was held in isolation in a freezing dark cell.
“They threatened me with rape. They brought me to a room where I could hear men shouting next door. They said if I didn’t talk they would put me in with these men so they could ‘have fun’ with me.
“I was electrocuted. I was slapped and hit. They videoed us after being tortured.
“I was not read my rights. I did not see a lawyer. I was made to sign a confession blindfolded.
“I saw my family for the first time after three months. But it was only three minutes a week.”
Rula was the first from the hospital to be arrested in March—and the last to be released five months later.
Following a hunger strike, the medics were released on 8 September, to huge jubilation.
It was not known that it would be a last chance for many of them to say goodbye to their families before being jailed again.
All strongly deny the accusations against them and many international organisations have been quick to defend their work.
Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, described the treatment of the Salmaniya workers as “the worst violation of medical neutrality” in 20 years.
Rula is calling for solidarity from across the world.
“My job is to treat,” she said. “If it happens again I will do it again. I am begging health workers and medics everywhere for help. I don’t want to spend another day in prison.
“Please write and appeal against what has happened to us. If it was them, I would stand up. Let them protest all over the world.”
Send messages of support to [email protected]
Sign the petition in support of the workers at www.ipetitions.com/petition/freebahrainmedics
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