Haleema Abdulaziz Al-Sabagh, a Bahrain nursing assistant, has had her appeal verdict delayed yet again. Al-Sabagh was arrested at her workplace at Salmaniya hospital last January and charged with taking first-aid medicine for the treatment of injured protesters off-site. The 35-year-old mother of a 2-year-old was sentenced to prison in September, and was scheduled to hear her appeal verdict this past Monday. She will now have to wait until June 16 to find out her fate – after she will have served 9 months of her year-long sentence.
A network of underground medical treatment centers – often in people’s private homes – has sprung up in Bahrain to treat those injured in protests because if activists seek treatment in a state-run public hospital, they are likely to face interrogation and arrest. Al-Sabagh is accused of taking medical supplies from the hospital where she worked to resource one of these underground facilities.
According to the family of Al-Sabagh, the prison authorities have denied her access to proper medical care for the last two months. Her family has stated that she suffers from severe back pain, yet prison authorities have stated they will only release her to the hospital for treatment if she is unconscious. The facilities within the prison clinic are insufficient and her family says she is only given limited treatment of painkillers.
The Bahraini promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests in February 2011 and called in forces from the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured protesters. A report published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November 2011 found that the Bahrain Regime, headed by the Al Khalifa family, had used excessive force in the crackdown and accused the government of torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters.
The Bahraini government’s repeated efforts to crack down and imprison human rights defenders and prominent members of civil society does little to convince the international community of their commitment to reform and upholding minimum standards of human rights.
The targeting of Bahraini medics is one of the most widely-reported symbols of the harsh government crackdown. Sadly, Al-Sabagh’s is one of several cases of Bahraini medics who have remained in prison after convictions.
Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon was arrested in March 2011, abducted, and subjected to torture, solitary confinement and detention over a six-month period. He was later charged in a military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison before being retried by a civilian court and his sentence reduced to five years.
Hassan Matooq, an emergency department nurse was arrested on March 24, 2011 from the Emergency Department by twenty masked soldiers. He was convicted of taking unapproved photographs and “fabricating reality.” He received a three year sentence.
Ibrahim al-Demastani, head of the Bahrain Nurse’s Society, volunteered to provide medical care at Salmaniya hospital and Pearl roundabout and also trained protesters in first aid. He was arrested on 17 March, 2011 for “hiding and harboring a fugitive.” The alleged fugitive was a protester who was badly injured during a demonstration.
Al-Demistani was subjected to torture and forced to sign false statements as well as being forced to witness the torture of his colleagues Dr Ali Al-Ekri and Rula Al-Saffar. He is currently serving a sentence of 3 years imprisonment and the list goes on.