On Monday, the eve of the one-year anniversary of the start of Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising, thousands of protesters gathered to try to occupy Pearl Square in the nation’s capital. Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades, and scattered clashes broke out.
Authorities in Bahrain blamed the protesters for the violence Monday, and a letter to the U.S. Congress posted on Bahrainviews.com said the crowds were subjecting citizens to “crimes, attacks, sabotage on an everyday” basis. But independent reports from Bahrain say protesters began throwing rocks only after security forces turned upon them with tear gas and stun grenades.
“At the beginning… we decided to protest to have reforms, equality and better life,” said Abu Haider, who was preparing to venture out onto the streets on Tuesday, just as he had on Feb.14, 2011. “But things escalated after the police killed a 21-year-old ... and in a peaceful sit-in... started shooting at us.”
At least 60 people have been killed since the uprising began, according to the BBC.
In Manama Monday, a surgeon holed up inside his flat with his wife and baby, afraid to venture out because he had been arrested last spring after treating a wounded protester. Many other doctors were also imprisoned, according to reports, and some have since fled the country to avoid torture and imprisonment, according to activists.
The surgeon, who would not give his name for fear of reprisals, was a doctor at Manama’s government hospital Salmaniya Medical Complex last year. He said he was arrested in April, set free in June, and then fired from his job. Here is his story.
Q. Why were you arrested in April?
A. I had treated a protester that came into the hospital for a gunshot wound. When they later interrogated me, they said I had intentionally killed a healthy protester who came in with a scratch, by planting a bullet in his head to make the government look as if they had been at fault.
While I was in prison, I missed the birth of my son... I was also [tortured], kicked, hit in the head.
Later, my charges became illegal gathering, some copy and paste charges that they have. In subsequent courts, some of my charges were dropped.
Q. Where does your case stand now?
A. There were many doctors who were imprisoned, and our current situation is unknown. We are not allowed to go back to work and there is no news about us going to work. Some of us may be allowed to work in private clinics, but we don’t know until when. Tomorrow, anyone could slam me with a warrant.
My next court date will be in March. But it’s quite fuzzy, the situation, we don’t know what is going to happen. It is not a court of law we are dealing with, but a court that is based on a political situation.
Q. What is the hospital where you worked, SMC, like now?
A. SMC is a normal hospital, with normal inpatient and surgery. Our work was disturbed on the days of protests. And it has been occupied by the military ever since, with armored vehicles manning the gates and AK-47s. Two or three months ago, that changed to regular guards and police, but you still can’t go in to the hospital unless you pass by a checkpoint.
I speak to the doctors there, and some of them say they feel I am lucky to be imprisoned because the place is so horrible. We used to work as one group in the hospital, Sunni and Shia, but now it’s like two groups inside the hospital. And you just don’t feel safe, the doctors and nurses going there every day, and they say when they go into work, they don’t know if they are coming back.
Q. As a doctor, what are some of the new health problems you have seen as a result of the protests?
A. Some doctors are now talking about forming a society to treat and rehabilitate torture victims. If you ask anyone on the street: “Were you tortured?” they will say yes, or that they know someone who was. We have a lot of handicapped victims. But even a society of doctors will be stopped by the government.
But a lot of the torture is psychological. People are depressed, they are really depressed. The state of psychological depression, it’s like everybody has it, it’s endemic. One doctor said I tried to prescribe medicine, and it didn’t work.
My mother does not sleep at night, not because she is worried, but because every night, police are shouting, in the area where she lives.
The other day, I was in the project of building a house for me and my wife, and there was one guy wanted to come work for me, but he disappeared for 10 days. When he came back, he said “I’m sorry, my father was sick. And he died because of gas.” He had asthma, he was around tear gas for too long.
Q. Do you ever visit the protests now?
A. No, but you cannot run away from protests. The protests are everywhere. They spill out on major highways from time to time. One hour ago, I was sitting in my flat hearing the sound of grenades and tear gas canisters popping around. There was noise all over. You don’t escape the tear gas either. It’s like the flavor of the year, you smell it everywhere.
Q. Would you consider leaving Bahrain?
A. We are barred from traveling, I have some job offers somewhere else, but I cannot go.
But even if I could go, I am conflicted... between having a more comfortable life outside, but why should I leave my country? Sometimes I feel I am obliged to stay here.