After seven days, the still-blindfolded Saffar was allowed to dictate a statement about what she had seen and done at the hospital during the uprising. Then her interrogator tore up the document and burned her hair with a cigarette lighter.
The blindfold ordeal lasted 15 days. When Saffar came home in August after 143 days in detention, she had lost nearly a third of her weight. She looked in the mirror “and I saw an old woman.” When she tried to return to work, she was told that she had been suspended — no reason given.
A military court sentenced her to 15 years in prison. An appeal is to be heard in criminal court next month.
At the bottom of the police summons that each arrested medic received from the Interior Ministry, a slogan in large type says, “With your cooperation we will achieve security and stability.”
An investigation by an international panel of jurists last month verified the accounts of torture and indiscriminate arrests. The king promised to hold those responsible to account and to restore the jobs of thousands. But the promises have yet to be met.
Saffar, who like many Bahrainis with money went to an English-language school as a teen, grew up not knowing whether she was Sunni or Shiite. She said her mother would tell her, “You’re a Muslim Bahraini, and that’s it.”
In fact, she is what Bahrainis call a “Su-Shi,” with a Sunni mother and Shiite father. Such intermarriages are common in Bahrain.
Just a few minutes’ drive from Saffar’s house, in a walled community where some of the country’s investment bankers and other beneficiaries of oil wealth live, four couples gather for dinner and a chance to see how far along their friends are in creating Plan B — their escape from the country they love.
These are not the kind of people who go to protests, but some were rooting for the demonstrators. Others around the table were put off by the protesters’ disruptive tactics, such as pouring motor oil on highways.
All of the couples have started planning their departures. If the kids miss a month of school because of disturbances, we’re out of here, one businessman says. If investment here continues to drop, we’ll have to move, another says.
They wonder how their country can climb down from the heated Sunni-Shiite confrontation: At their children’s school, a sixth-grader asked her friends not to talk to Shiite girls. In another grade, a child handing out invitations to his birthday party inquired whether his friends were Sunni or Shiite; only the Sunnis got invitations.
Some Sunnis understand the royal family’s decision to play hardball: Being across the gulf from Iran — which sponsored a coup attempt in Bahrain three decades ago — the king is spooked by the Shiite Islamist theocracy. But the independent commission found no evidence of involvement by Iran in Bahrain’s protests. Organizers of the uprising say that they may be Shiite but that they are committed to pluralism, secular rule and even the ruling family — if it grants the people a bigger voice.