I was blindfolded, then tortured and sexually attacked until I ‘confessed': Doctor facing jail after treating Bahrain riot victims tells of her terrifying ordeal
By ABUL TAHER
Last updated at 11:45 PM on 1st October 2011
For this offence, Dr Fatima Haji was dragged out of her house at midnight by 30 plain-clothes police officers brandishing guns.
She says she was then taken blindfolded to a secret interrogation centre, before being tortured and repeatedly sexually assaulted until she signed documents confessing her ‘crimes’.
And she was kept in solitary confinement for another 22 days, before being released on bail.
Now the 33-year-old doctor has been sentenced to five years in jail.
Though not yet imprisoned, she waits anxiously for government forces to drag her away at any moment.
Dr Haji, who has a three-year-old son, Yusuf, said: ‘Every time I hug my boy, it could be my last. Every time I call him to me, I know it could be the last time I hold him.’
Dr Haji was one of 20 doctors and nurses who were sentenced to jail terms of between five and 15 years at a special military tribunal on Friday.
They were accused of conspiring to overthrow the monarchy by supporting the anti-government protests that broke out earlier this year.
The medics were accused of using ambulances to transport protesters and ammunition. Dr Haji herself was accused of stealing blood bags to give to the protesters who used them to fake injuries.
She claims the court refused to send for witnesses the defendants had requested, so some turned up of their own free will and demanded to be heard. Even then, the judge directed the lawyers to ask certain questions only.
Dr Haji is on bail as she appeals, but the authorities can put her in jail any time and insist that she challenges her sentence from prison.
The Arab Spring that had swept through Tunisia and Egypt arrived at the tiny island kingdom in the Persian Gulf in February. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the capital, Manama, demanding more democratic freedoms from the ruling Al-Khalifa family.
At least 35 people have since been killed in a government crackdown.
Friday’s sentencing was condemned by Western governments and human rights groups.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: ‘I am deeply concerned. These are worrying developments.’
Dr Haji was among 3,000 staff working at the Salmaniya Medical Complex hospital in Manama when the protests erupted.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday by telephone, she said that the majority of the casualties were taken there for treatment, and the hospital became a focus for the world’s media.
‘We were filmed treating patients. This meant we appeared on the Al-Jazeera TV news channel and the government did not like that,’ she said.
At midnight one night in April, about 30 plain-clothes police officers barged into her house and dragged her out. Her 34-year-old husband, Jalal Al-Marzook, a doctor at the same hospital, was not at home. But they were not looking for him.
Dr Haji says she was taken to an interrogation centre and punched and kicked while blindfolded. Then she was kept standing for several days without food and water, and sexually molested.
‘I don’t know how many men there were as I was blindfolded, but I heard many voices. They said they would rape me,’ she said.
‘They told me they knew which nursery Yusuf was in, and would get him. That’s when I broke and said I’d do anything they wanted.’
She then signed a number of documents which she later learned were confessions. She was kept in detention for another three weeks, then released on bail.
Dr Haji still can’t believe how the year has changed so drastically for her – at the start of 2011 she was on holiday in London with her family. Now, though, she is in despair. ‘I am innocent. I was just doing my job. Now I feel scared for my life and my son.’
Two doctors who are facing jail for treating anti-government protesters in Bahrain have told Sky News how they were tortured by the authorities: here.
Doctors in Bahrain jailed for treating patients: here.
Bahrain Press Association “BPA”, the London-based association concerned with defending Bahrain media and press people, condemns the sentences of 15-year imprisonment ruled by a military court and upheld by the appellate court in Bahrain against two bloggers and human rights activists: here.
Bahrain Report & Videos: Protests in 40 Villages on Friday, Man Dies From Tear Gas: here.