Bahrain medical staff 'tortured for confessions'

Doctors and nurses put on trial in Bahrain yesterday told relatives they were beaten with hoses and wooden boards embedded with nails and made to eat faeces. They also had to stand without moving for hours, or even days, and were deprived of sleep in order to force them to sign false confessions.

The Bahraini authorities have put on trial 47 doctors and nurses before a security tribunal, accusing them of trying to overthrow the government, though they say all they did was treat injured pro-democracy protesters. Relatives of the health workers, who were allowed to speak to them for 10 minutes after the hearing, said the accused alleged that they had been psychologically and physically abused during their confinement.

One eyewitness said the health workers said the worst "forms of torture were during the interrogation in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) in Adiya. But at the jail it was mainly humiliation and constant verbal abuse with the occasional beatings, however not as severe and extreme as at the CID."

The trial is a sign that the end of martial law on 1 June has had no effect on the government's repression of the majority Shia community. The court trying the health workers, most of whom worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, has military prosecutors and military and civilian judges, suggesting the end to martial law may have been a ploy ahead of Formula One's decision to stage the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Before the hearing yesterday, families of the doctors and nurses had only been able to communicate by phone. Lawyers had not seen their clients at all. Eyewitnesses said the appearance of the doctors confirmed fears of abuse. A witness told The Independent: "They were blindfolded and handcuffed and these were only removed when the [court] session began." The witness asked for their name to be withheld.

The health workers were arraigned in two groups, some 20 being charged with felonies and the remainder with misdemeanours. The first group "all had their heads shaven. Most of them had lost a lot of weight. Most were either in casual attire or pyjamas."

Some of the doctors are consultants with 20 years service with the Bahraini Health Ministry. The trial was adjourned until 13 June.

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