On September 7th, 2016, Bahrain’s appeals court upheld a one year prison sentence issued against Dr. Said AlSamahiji, after charging him with “insulting a neighboring country”.
Sixty-three-year-old Dr. AlSamahiji is an ophthalmologist. Bahraini authorities have been targeting medical professionals, including Dr. AlSamahiji, since the beginning of the Bahraini people’s demands in democratic transformation in 2011, and this is the fourth time in which Dr. AlSamahiji has faced arbitrary arrest and incarceration.
The First Arrest:
Dr. AlSamahiji’s first arrest was on March 27th, 2011, shortly after the deployment of the “Peninsula Shield Forces” in Bahrain and the subsequent repression of the peaceful assembly in Manama’s Pearl Square. He was apprehended with a number of doctors and nurses for adhering to their professional and ethical obligations in providing medical care and treatment to protesters who were injured during the oppression carried out by Bahraini security forces and the “Peninsula Shield Forces” against peaceful protesters who camped out by Pearl Square and those who participated in anti-regime protests. Following his arrest, Dr. AlSamahiji endured brutal torture and abuse that led to the deterioration of his health. Dr. AlSamahiji soon developed a cerebral aneurysm, and he was transferred to the AlSalmaniyah Medical Complex on August 9th, 2011, where he underwent urgent surgery before eventually being transferred for treatment abroad on August 26th, 2011.
As of September 9th, 2011, the medical professionals were to be tried in military tribunals, and they were released pending trial. However, on September 29th, 2011, Dr. AlSamahiji was sentenced to 15 years in prison. It was later announced that the harsh sentences issued against the medical professionals were overturned, and the sentences against nine others, including Dr. AlSamahiji, were reduced. The medical professionals were to be retried in civil tribunals.
The Second Arrest:
On October 1st, 2012, Bahrain’s Cassation Court upheld the prison sentences issued against nine medical professionals, and October 9th, 2012, armed security forces stormed into Dr. AlSamahiji’s residence and arrested him before transferring him to prison, where he was to serve the one year prison sentence issued against him.
The Third Arrest:
Again, on July 1st, 2014, armed security forces stormed into Dr. AlSamahiji’s residence and arrested him. He was once again transferred to prison to serve a one year prison sentence that was issued against him on December 11th, 2013. Bahrain’s Public Prosecution had charged Dr. AlSamahiji, on September 19th, 2013, with “lèse-majesté” during a speech he delivered September 1st, 2013 during his participation in the funeral procession of young Sadiq Sabat, a 22-year-old martyr who was killed after sustaining fatal injuries from being run over by a vehicle belonging to the security forces. Dr. AlSamahiji was sentenced to imprisonment and he fined in the amount of 200 Bahraini Dinars (approximately USD $530) simply for delivering a speech at a funeral procession.
During his detention, the Bahraini authorities denied Dr. AlSamahiji access to the medication he was prescribed following the cerebral aneurysm he developed as a result of the torture he was subjected to during his previous detention.
The Fourth Arrest:
Before he had a chance to enjoy his freedom, Dr. AlSamahiji was rearrested on January 4th, 2016, when armed security forces stormed into his residence and arrested him because of some “Tweets” he had posted on his personal account on Twitter. In the Tweets in question, Dr. AlSamahiji merely expressed his opinion over Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite religious cleric and dissident, Sheikh Nimr Baqar AlNimr. The Public Prosecution charged Dr. AlSamahiji with “insulting a neighboring country”, “publicly inciting to non-compliance with the laws and institutions in Bahrain”, and “publicly calling for participation in unauthorized demonstrations and marches”. Dr. AlSamahiji stood trial once again, and on April 7th, 2016, he was sentenced to one year in prison. The appeals court upheld this sentence last September.
Since his arrest in early this year, Dr. AlSamahiji went on a hunger strike that lasted for 50 days, from February 14th, 2016, until March 31st, 2016. Dr. AlSamahiji was protesting against the abuse he was subjected to during the period of his detention in Bahrain’s Dry Dock Prison, including being cruelly separated from his family by a glass barrier during familial visits behind bars, and being insulted and threatened by the guards in prison. During his hunger strike, Dr. AlSamahiji’s health condition has deteriorated many times, most recently on March 29th, 2016, when he was vomiting blood. Dr. AlSamahiji lost 20 kilograms of his weight, but he refused to end his hunger strike before his legitimate demands were met by the prison’s administration. He demanded the removal of the glass barrier that separated him from his family during familial visits, and he also demanded proper medical treatment and an end to the torture and arbitrary solitary confinement of his fellow detainees. On April 10th, 2016, Dr. AlSamahiji was transferred from Dry Dock to Jaw Central Prison.
It is worth noting that Dr. AlSamahiji was one of more than twenty doctors who faced arrest and harsh prison sentences for simply complying with their professional and moral duties to aid the wounded. Other medical professionals who were detained include Dr. Ghassan Dhaif, Nurse Ibrahim Al-Damestani, vice president of the Bahraini Nursing Society, who was released on April 28th, 2015, after serving a three-year prison sentence, and Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Jaw Central Prison. In addition, since February 2011, Bahraini authorities have arrested more than forty doctors, nurses, first responders, and medics. Some of them were exonerated while others received prison sentences after being falsely accused of stealing medications, possession of arms, forceful occupation of AlSalmaniyah Medical Complex, spreading fabricated news and rumors, withholding medical treatment, and inciting hatred and calling for the downfall of the regime. These accusations were categorically denied by all of the medical professionals, who were subjected to the most horrendous forms of physical and psychological torture during the period of their arrest and imprisonment.
Based on the aforementioned, The Bahraini German Organization for Human Rights and Democracy (BGP) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. AlSamahiji. All charges against Dr. AlSamahiji should be dropped given the fact that he is a prisoner of opinion who has faced arrest and incarceration simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. BGO also calls for compensating Dr. AlSamahiji and awarding him damages for all the harm that he has suffered after being repeatedly arrested and subjected to brutal torture.
BGO also calls on all local and international organizations to demand the unconditional release of Dr. Said AlSamahiji and all of the detained medical professionals and prisoners of opinion in Bahrain.
BGO urges the Bahraini authorities to abolish any laws that criminalize the exercise of the right to free speech, in compliance with Bahrain’s commitments according to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Bahraini government ratified in December, 2006. Article 19(2) of the ICCPR states that, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”