Saudi Arabia: Could “Bahrain Happen in Saudi Arabia?”


The follow article from AP correspondent Ali Khalil portrays a disturbing picture of abuse, interrogation and coercing female physicians in Bahrain to acknowledge support and participation of Shiite uprising in Bahrain.  One reading these stories of horror it made me wonder even more about Manal Al-Sherif and what she may have underwent and experienced during her “detention” in a Saudi prison.  One does not hear many stories about what happens in a Saudi prison but what the world does know for sure is that Manal Al-Sherif signed a statement she would never attempt to drive again in Saudi Arabia and issued a public apology for her actions.  Those who know Manal and her family know that she is a strong individual with backbone.  What exactly took place during her detention to make her do such an about face?  Could what happened to the female physicians in Bahrain happen to women who attempt to drive in Saudi Arabia?



By Ali Khalil, AFP

MANAMA (AFP) – Out of prison but in fear of being rearrested, Bahraini Shiite women doctors have spoken of abuse and torture by police after being accused of backing pro-democracy protests in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.

Although medics usually enjoy protection in conflicts by virtue of their profession, many Shiite doctors and nurses in Bahrain were rounded up in the March crackdown on a month-long pro-democracy protest.

Authorities accused them of abusing their jobs and siding with their co-religionist protesters.

Doctors at Manama’s Salmaniya central hospital, not far from the capital’s Pearl roundabout that became the focal point of protests inspired by the Arab uprisings, were also accused of lying and exaggerating on satellite channels to pile pressure on the government.

Some of the women doctors recently freed told AFP how they were made to confess to such allegations under torture and after being subjected to verbal abuse.

They requested anonymity for fear of further persecution.

“I advise you that we will get you to say whatever we want, either by you saying it willingly, or we will beat you like a donkey and torture you until you say it,” one female doctor said, citing her interrogator.

The doctor said she was asked about her role in the February 14 Revolution, the name given by cyber activists to the demonstrations after two protesters were killed on that date.

She said she was smacked in the face by a female interrogator when she answered that she was just a doctor treating those wounded during the crackdown on the uprising.

“It seems you don’t want to cooperate,” the female officer told her, while accusing medics of “stealing blood units to splash on the wounded” to exaggerate their injuries for television.

Blindfolded and handcuffed, the female doctor who claimed to have always been apolitical, said she was stunned with an electric shock to the head. She was then thrown on the floor, legs up, and beaten severely on the feet with what felt like an electric cable or a hose.

“Even policewomen were shocked when they saw my state as I came out of the interrogation room,” she said.

The following day, male interrogators took over, subjecting her to verbal sexual harassment and threatening to rape her.

“You must have had Mutah with demonstrators at the (Pearl) roundabout,” she cited the interrogator telling her, referring to a form of temporary marriage for Shiites which Sunnis frown upon as adultery.

“I will have Mutah with you,” she quoted him as saying.

“I will hang you from your breasts and rape you,” she quoted another as saying.

The woman eventually agreed to sign every confession paper she was given for fear of being raped.

Afterwards she spent more than 20 days in prison. She was released only after signing many pledges, including not to take part in any protests and not to talk to media.

Other female doctors, each of whom has had at least 20 years of professional experience, too spoke of humiliations and beatings.

“Nobody expected this” said one doctor who said she too was arrested and tortured. “Doctors are supposed to be a red line.”

She also spent over 20 days in detention and was subjected to beating to extract confessions that doctors had tried to “expand wounds in order to make them look bad,” for cameras.

The authorities claim that such actions led to the deaths of two protesters who they said had arrived at the hospital suffering only minor injuries.

“I couldn’t tell on which side of my head the slaps would land” said the veiled doctor describing how she was made to stand blindfolded in the interrogation room, where she claimed she was repeatedly called a “whore.”

At night, the soft-spoken mother was made to sleep on a chair.

Another doctor said she managed to lie down, albeit on a cold floor, blindfolded and handcuffed, only after she faked dizziness.

Apart from wanting her to testify against some male doctors accused of mobilising medics to join the protests, they also ordered her to say that she served medicines “only to one sect of people who wanted to topple the regime” — a reference to the Shiite protesters.

She said she was struck several times in the face by a female interrogator.

Though freed, the doctors are barred from travelling and remain suspended from work with salaries overdue since March. They now fear being put on trial.

AFP approached Bahraini authorities for comment on abuse claims, but there was no response.

The authorities have said that 47 medics — 24 doctors and 23 nurses — have been referred to a special court set up under the state of national safety declared by King Hamad a day before the March 16 crackdown on demonstrators.

Bahrain state television repeatedly aired footage from Salmaniya hospital showing scenes it said proved the facility had been transformed into a protest bastion.

“What happened at Salmaniya will not be permitted again,” Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman said last week.

The freed women doctors say they fear for the fate of the male doctors who remain in custody.

“If the women have been treated in such a (harsh) way, what would the situation be with the men!” exclaimed one doctor.

Some medics also expressed fear over the conditions of the female head of nursing at Salmaniya hospital, Rola al-Safar, who remains in custody.

Safar was forced to confess on camera that she “splashed blood units on the patients” to exaggerate, one medic said.

International rights groups have strongly criticised Bahrain over its heavy-handed crackdown on the Shiite-dominated protests, and abuse of medics, teachers and other employees accused of backing the protest.


22 Responses

  1. awful, awful, awful

    Reminds me of the video I saw this morning from AC360 with 13-year-old Hamza AlKhateeb’s “father” and “uncle” praising Bashar al-Assad as the best president Syria has ever had. This after the regime – oh so kindly – returned his mutilated body last week. The official story…that’s just how bodies compose.

    Yeah, we all know decomposing bodies have cigarette burns, bullet holes, shattered knee caps and missing genitals! Riiiiiight.

  2. uh, decompose..sorry

  3. Welcome to the Arab World where brutality and governance mean the same thing to the subjugated populous. Those who did not live under or abide by Arab tyrannical rules know now that the tyrant they cuddle with and benefit from are cold blooded murderers. What happened and still happening in Bahrain is savage, tragically the same and probably worse happens in the dark dungeons of other Arab Gulf States. The only way to eradicate torture, rape and mutilation by absolute dictators is for democratic societies to form a united front and make sure that the rule of law and respect for human dignity are implemented and protected. This is the first line of defense for democracies worldwide.

  4. Susanne! OMG, seriously? Wasn’t it his family that spread the pictures? Why do they even bother making these people make all these false statements? No one ever believes them, do they?

  5. Yes, his family spread the pictures initially, but it seems they may have been threatened thus the new statements for Syrian public TV. No, I don’t think most people believe them except the ones in Syria denying there is anything happening at all and if so, it’s all a plot from outside instigators. In their view, there is no way people cannot love Assad and the wonderful reforms he brought to Syria after his murdering father died.

    Here is the video from last night. Anderson Cooper covers the part I mentioned in the first 3 minutes so you don’t have to watch all of it unless you find it of interest.

  6. I have extremely strong opinions about the torture, rape and abuse of women doctors in Bahrain, and male doctors too of course, I have extremely strong opinions of the female Egyptian detainees who were stripped tortured and forced to undergo ”virginity tests” I have extremely strong opinions about the Syrian government who tortured a 13 year old boy to death, and I have strong opinions about people who deny or nullify my opinions because I have never been in any of these countries.

    I understand Saudi prisons are not a good place to be and we should be very worried about anybody. especially political prisoners who are taken there.
    That’s why we campaigned for Fouad Al Farhan. That’s why the international community rose up to protest the prison sentence and torture meeted out to the Girl of Qatif.
    That’s why any effort spend on supporting Manal Al Sherif was valuable and important in securing her release.
    That’s why I think it’s worthwhile to spend a few days making something which calls attention to help those who are in the clutches of evil totalitarian regimes.

    Reading about what happens in these countries makes me sick to my stomach, but I think it is my duty as a human being to be aware of whats happening.

    And to support with whatever I have to give my fellow humans, my brothers and sisters, who are under the yoke of evil.

  7. Bahrain has been a country which utilizes torture from the beginning. The same prime minister has been running the country since independence. He employed Ian Henderson (the Butcher of Bahrain) to head the State Security organization, just after independence. A tradition of wrong imprisonment and torture has been established in the country and continues until this day.

    If you are interested watch this documentary.

    Ian Henderson, did retire in the 1990’s after 30 years of torturing Bahraini’s. However, the same Prime Minister is still running the country and the State of torture continues.

  8. Is anyone really surprised? I’m not.

  9. Could “Bahrain Happen in Saudi Arabia?” It is not a matter of “could” but “IS”. Executions, torture and mistreatment of prisoners (especially political prisoners) has been going on in Saudi Arabia for a long long time, perhaps even longer than in Bahrain.

    In April this year, US State Department released its “2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” The annual report provides details on human rights conditions in over 190 countries. Included are reports on the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which represents the US-backed monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

    According to the report, following “significant human rights problems” were reported for Saudi Arabia:

    No right to change the government peacefully; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of fair and public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency.

    You can read more at the following link:

  10. In continuation of my previous post, I forgot to post the following link (“INSIDE SAUDI PRISONS”) which gives first person narratives of torture and mistreatment of prisoners, through the eyes of the “westerners”:

  11. Having many friends and a few family memebers still in Bahrain…I can attest to the fact that what is going on there is far worse then even the newsreports have depicted. In my 23 years there…people who opposed the govt disappeared all the time..people whisper in groups…the king or pm’s names were never spoken out loud unless someone was praising them. One man who actively opposed them was beaten and burned in his garage…his death was considered “natural causes” as have been all the deaths of those taken into custody.

    The fact that Bahrain has always been just one step below possibly Dubai in its “western” outlook etc has always amazed me because, as with all things Arab, how something looks is the most important fact of life. Those leaders who are having their own people killed for opposing them…can still get on camera and with a straight face claim everything here is great…we are one big happy family and national unity is everyone’s goal.

    Individual Arabs are wonderful…as a whole I have never seen a culture based on hypocrisy to such a level as the Arab one.

  12. coolred , – question for you, is the airport safe? my kids are transitting thru there and i’m a bit worried.. so if they shutup , sit inthe lounge quietly adn get back on the plane they should be fine?

  13. Radha..the airport is situated in a spot not in the thick of it so to speak…and of course appearances must be the airport is guarded and anything close to destroying the picture of tranquility is squashed quickly. It should be safe enough. Mostly the villages are the targeted areas and Shiia villages that is..and those are far from the airport which happens to be surrounded by Sunnis for the most part…no accident there Im sure.

  14. I concur with Coolred’s comment about the need for appearances in the Arab world. I’ve noticed and experienced that and this is in professional, political and personal circumstances.

  15. Thanks for that Susanne. That just makes me sick. I hope your friends there are all staying safe.

  16. Harry hit the nail on the head, ‘could Bahrain become like Saudi?’ Im thinking whats the difference?

  17. Please read

    Invading Bahrain an old Saudi Government Objective

    CDHR’s Analysis: The Saudi monarchs (with the exception of King Fahd, to a degree) have long considered Bahrain a threat to their rule, though for reasons other than the fear of Bahrain becoming an Iranian colony. That theme was developed in recent years to turn Saudis against Iran and to draw credulous Western allies into a war to rid the Saudi royals of their last regional religious and strategic rival.

    Of all the Gulf States’ populations, the Bahraini people are the least socially conservative. They are religiously tolerant, politically open-minded, and accepting of ethnic, religious, and regional differences. They also happen to be only twelve miles from the oil-rich Saudi Eastern Province and its politically and socially nonconformist oil workers who come from every corner of Saudi Arabia. Bahraini beliefs and practices are incongruous with the Saudi government-imposed way of thinking and living. For these reasons, the small island became a sanctuary for many Eastern Province Saudi residents. As a former employee of the oil industry, I remember vividly that many of us could not wait for the weekend to arrive so we could flee to Bahrain to enjoy movies, night clubs, and to mix with the opposite gender – basic freedoms denied us under the suffocating Saudi-Wahhabi constrictions. The more we visited Bahrain, the more we resented our government, society, traditions, and even our religion which we were made to believe was responsible for our oppression and deprivation. We began to ask questions and compare our lifestyle with the Bahrainis. They are Muslims, they have mosques, they pray and read the Quran; at the same time, they enjoy a social life that could get us flogged and in some cases beheaded in public squares.

    For some Saudis, visiting Bahrain transcended the pleasure-seeking adventures. During their frequent visits, anti-monarchy and anti-“oil men” (American oil companies) Saudis used their time to organize political and labor actions. Many were discontented with wages and living conditions associated with policies of cultural and racial discrimination. Representatives of Saudi oil employees met in Bahrain to brainstorm and draw up plans for strikes against the oil companies directly and the monarchy indirectly. The strikers came from all segments of society and regions of Saudi Arabia. Regardless of regional background, race, or religious orientation, the planners and leaders of the strikes, as well as the strikers themselves, were united by common grievances. Consequently, their unity and extraordinary actions shook the foundations of the oil companies and the Saudi ruling family. Because of the organizers’ and strikers’ diverse religious, ethnic and regional backgrounds, many people in the country were affected by what happened to their relatives during and after the strikes.

    The overworked and underpaid Saudi employees wanted higher salaries, transportation (buses), and air conditioning in their scorching cement barracks. They wanted facilities comparable to those awarded to expatriate oil workers. The strikes were massive, and the results were impressive, but they came at a high price. King Saud authorized one of Saudi Arabia’s most anti-modern and ruthless officials, the governor of the Eastern Province Abdul Aziz Bin Jlewi, to crush the strikers, especially the instigators of the uprising. The governor sent his religiously-indoctrinated militia to beat and kill strikers with clear instructions to hunt down their leaders, specifically Nasser Mohammed Al-Saeed Al-Shammari, Mohammed Ibn Namah, and (I believe) Nasser or Mohammed Ibn Mammar. Some of the leaders were able to save their lives by fleeing to Bahrain and from there to Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq. Mind you, all of this happened in the 1950s at a time when the Saudi monarchy had brotherly Mu slim relations with Iran under Emperor Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, or the King of Kings. The Shah and his wife, Empress Suraya, were close friends of King Saud at that time.

    After the strikes subsided, our travels to Bahrain were restricted and we were followed by Saudi spies to make sure no more plots were concocted. Since then, the Saudi monarchs have considered Bahrain a source of instability and its ruling Al-Khalifa family socially debauched because they allow alcohol, movies, and a freer lifestyle on their island. The current Saudi government’s occupation of Bahrain provides the Saudi political-religious establishment with a long-sought pretext to turn Bahrain into a strict Wahhabi state.

    History shows that the residents of Eastern Saudi Arabia have been at the forefront in challenging the Al-Saud family and its repressive system. They are more secular, less conformist, and were once the most informed group in Saudi Arabia due to their interactions with oil workers from many countries and nationalities. Contrary to the statements of Saudi royals and their beneficiaries and defenders who accuse the Shiites of fomenting trouble, the leaders and strikers of the 1950s were mostly Sunnis, not Shiites.

    I was an eyewitness to the strikes and the leader of the strikers, Nasser Mohammed Al-Saeed Al-Shammari, was my immediate supervisor at Aramco’s storage facilities in Abqaiq, eastern Saudi Arabia, where I served as an “office boy”.

    Despite intense pressure from Saudi monarchs and the religious establishment’s incitement against their Shiite citizens, the Saudi people today, regardless of region, ethnicity, or religious orientation, share grievances comparable to those of the oil workers in the 1950s. They will figure out that the Saudi ruling family’s “divide and conquer” policy of turning Sunni citizens against their Shiite brothers and sisters and of turning the genders against each other is designed to prevent them from uniting against their common oppressor, the Saudi-Wahhabi establishment. The uprisings sweeping through the Arab World today will not stop at the Saudi desert borders. The message, for those who are not blind to the reality around them, is writ large on the trembling walls of Saudi palaces.

  18. Ali, Waw! Thank you for writing this extremely interesting and enlightening comment!

  19. @Aafke-Art,

    You welcome.

  20. Ali Alyami: “The uprisings sweeping through the Arab World today will not stop at the Saudi desert borders. The message, for those who are not blind to the reality around them, is writ large on the trembling walls of Saudi palaces”.

    Ali, an excellent analysis! I hope that your predictions come true SOON …..

  21. @Harry Guggen

    Thank you.

    If I were in the royals position, I would be doing the following now:

    1–Form a non-royal, non-sectarian committee to draft a non-sectarian constitution (constitutional monarchy will do for now) and rule of law.

    2–Permit local and national elections to elect legislative assemblies.

    3–Place the educational and judicial systems in the hands of non-sectarian men and women.

    4–Begin a processes of privatizing government industries and public utilities.

    5–Move all non-working royals from government payroll.

    6–Elect all regional governors

    7–Religious freedom for all citizens and residents of the country

    8–Create an independent treasury where public wealth is accounted for and all public officials salaries are open to public scrutiny.

    9–Every government official must work at least 8 hours a day in public offices not palaces

    10–Depersonalize all institutions

    And most important, free press to keep everyone honest.

    This is doable and in the best interest of everyone including the royals and the international community.

    Saudi Arabia plays major economic and religious roles in Muslims and non-Muslims lives. Its stability can only be maintained by its people, but they have to be empowered to do that.

  22. I hope you are right, Ali!!

    As to the Bahrain airport – I have a Canadian friend who is a pilot for Gulf Air. He and his family live in Manama and say they are safe and that the airport is fine so it depends on where you are. My friend feels he doesn’t have to ship his wife and kids back to Canada yet.

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