I was tortured in Bahrain police cell, says one of the doctors jailed for 15 years

Roula al-Saffar tells Patrick Cockburn of electric shocks and threats

As one of 20 Bahraini doctors and nurses given up to 15 years in prison, Dr Roula al-Saffar recalls with outrage the tortures inflicted as police tried to force her and other medical specialists to confess to "a doctors' plot" to overthrow the Bahraini government.

"It was a nightmare," Dr Saffar, the 49-year-old president of the Bahraini Nursing Society, told The Independent in a phone interview from Bahrain, on the day that she had originally been told she would go to prison – a fate that now appears to have been briefly postponed. "They gave me electric shocks and beat me with a cable. They did not let me sleep for three or four days."

She was given only a single bottle of water to drink in the course of a week-long interrogation. Even being given permission to go to the toilet depended on the mood of the police who were abusing her.

She was horrified to see school girls in shock who had been threatened with rape by interrogators, and she still fears that some of them may have been sexually abused but are too frightened to admit it. She said: "They had bruises all over their bodies." In the course of her five months' imprisonment, she believes she saw as many as 250 detainees, some of them aged between 13 and 16 years old, who were thrown into cells with their injuries untreated.

She herself was dragged one night from the cell where she was sleeping on the floor "to a room full of men who were all smoking". She said: "I had heard the call to prayer so it must have been about 3.30am. They told me they were going to rape me there and then if I did not confess."

Never were there more unlikely revolutionaries than the doctors and nurses, all specialists in their fields, whom the Bahraini government claims had turned the Salmaniya Hospital Complex in Manama, the capital, into a base for rebellion. "We are completely innocent," Dr Saffar said. "All we did was to treat our patients."

Dr Saffar, educated in the US and with a long list of degrees and medical qualifications, is now waiting to see if she will be re-arrested to start her sentence before her appeal is heard on 23 October. She is not hopeful about the outcome, after spending 156 days in prison. "Knowing what has happened in Bahrain, they can do anything," she says.

Her imprisonment started on 4 April when she was summoned to a police station. She was immediately handcuffed and blindfolded. "There were beatings and electric shocks and a piece of paper was put on my back saying that anybody could do anything to me," she remembers. This went on for a week. She was made to listen to the screams of colleagues being tortured.

She says she was especially targeted by a woman police officer, a member of the al-Khalifa royal family, who beat her and used electric shocks on her. "When I first arrived [the woman] said, 'Welcome. I have been waiting for you since 2005 and you have been under the microscope'." This turned out to be a reference to a campaign led by Dr Saffar to increase nurses' pay and improve their working conditions.

The account by Dr Saffar of her interrogation and mistreatment tallies so closely with that of other detainees that there seems to have been a common procedure, beginning with seven days of severe torture, including sleep deprivation and confinement in a cell with the air conditioning turned down to freezing. One obsession of her questioners was to force a confession that she and other doctors had taken bags of blood from the hospital blood bank to give to protesters to pour over themselves, to lend credibility to false claims that they had suffered injuries at the hands of the police. These and other charges, Dr Saffar said, were completely ridiculous.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence