Kate Allen: A warped response to calls for democracy

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Ayat al-Gormezi is far from being the only detainee in Bahrain who may have been tortured before going on trial. Hundreds have been arrested and many, like Ayat, were held incommunicado (always a deeply worrying sign).

Many report unprovoked assaults at the time of their arrest, often – in a clear pattern – by groups of masked police and security forces who smashed down doors in the early hours.

Amnesty International has had numerous reports where detainees allege torture, often while at undisclosed locations. Many of a group of 48 medical staff from Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama seem to have been horribly abused.

Relatives of the medics – who are on trial apparently as a punishment for treating wounded protesters – have told Amnesty how security officials at Bahrain's Criminal Investigations Directorate made them stand for long periods, deprived them of sleep, beat them with hoses and nailed boards, and made them sign "confessions" while blindfolded.

A 31-year-old man from a Shia village told what happened at a police station. "They put me in the middle of a room, blindfolded, and several men – I don't know how many – beat me and applied electric shocks on both legs," he said. "It hurt so much that after they applied the first shock I fell on the floor because I could not feel my legs. Once on the floor, they beat me and kicked me on my head and body. They beat me so hard that I still cannot see from one of my eyes."

Torture may have been lethal. In April, at least four detainees died in custody in very suspicious circumstances. The mistreatment seems aimed at warning protesters.

When the medics attended court this week their heads had been shaved and many looked gaunt. The men had been forced to stand in the hot sun before entering court and all were led in blindfolded and handcuffed.

Ominously there have been no independent investigations into the alleged abuses. But if they can do this to doctors, nurses and a poet, what does it say about the authorities' warped response to the challenge of people taking to the streets just to demand change?

Kate Allen is the director of Amnesty International UK

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