Most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about Bahrain, the small island kingdom in the Persian Gulf. But despite ignorance stateside, Americans play a considerable role in tolerating and perpetuating the bloody government crackdown against Bahraini protesters.
The United States has, despite rhetorical support for protesters in the Arab Spring, supplied oppressive regimes like Bahrain with large amounts of weapons. The Bahraini government has in turn used those arms to violently suppress anti-regime protests, leading to countless injuries and deaths of people calling for greater freedom.
The Bahraini government has been so brutal, in fact, that it has systematically jailed and tortured doctors who tried to treat injured protesters. The Guardian describes the story of one such medical professional, Rula al-Saffar, who has a slim chance Sunday to appeal her 15-year prison sentence for treating patients. She recounts her experiences following her arrest:
“The minute I entered they just closed the gate, and suddenly I was blindfolded, handcuffed, and started being pushed and cussed at the whole time.
“I never knew why was I there. And then this woman started shouting at me, that you hate the system, that you were a protester against the system, against the king.
“I kept saying: ‘No, this is not what happened,’ and of course the minute you say no they beat you up and they electrocute you … And I thought: ‘How dare you do this?’ Interrogation … as you see in a democratic country, I thought my country had the same thing, where you have a right for your lawyer, they read your warrant. But this is not what happened to us.”
Saffar spent five months in custody, enduring beatings, torture, sexual assault and threats of rape, before she was bailed in late August. On Sunday, Saffar and 19 other medics and paramedics will appeal against convictions — and sentences ranging between five and 20 years — that have been condemned by governments and medical associations around the world.
Amnesty International has said the charges are politically motivated and the trials were unfair, while the foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was “deeply concerned” by sentences handed down “after the briefest of hearings.”
Speaking to the Guardian from her home in the Bahraini capital, Saffar, 49, spoke of her terror of being returned to custody and potential torture. “To this day, I keep thinking I am in a nightmare, one day I am going to wake up from it … it’s like a choo-choo train. It never ends. I can’t imagine that we are going back again, to the same place, to be tortured again, to be questioned. And I don’t know why.
“I know one thing. That I did my job. This is all that I know. I did my job and I will do it again and again and again. I am a nurse.”
Such accounts, although difficult to hear, are important as the United States considers whether to authorize a $53 million arms deal with Bahrain. A country that tortures doctors who dare to treat protesters is certainly not one that will boost the United States’ global human rights reputation.