Bahraini Ophthalmologist Released from Prison
April 24, 2013
After a lengthy ordeal that began with his arrest in April 2011, Bahraini ophthalmologist Sa’eed Mothaher Habib al-Samahiji was released from Jaw prison just outside of Manama on April 23, 2013.
One of 48 health professionals arrested in March and April 2011 amid growing protests against Bahrain’s government, he was brutally tortured while held in pretrial detention for several weeks, as were many of the other arrested health professionals. Released on bail several months later, Dr. al-Samahiji was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military court in proceedings that flouted international fair trial standards. Charged with “forcibly detaining a policeman in the [al-Salmaniya] hospital” and ‘incitement of sectarian hatred,” he had been forced under torture to confess to both crimes, and his confession was used as evidence by the prosecution. On October 1, 2012, following two appeals of his conviction, the highest court in Bahrain upheld his guilty verdict and ordered him to serve a reduced prison sentence of one year. (His one-year sentence was reduced by six months and three weeks—the amount of time that he was held in pretrial detention.) Although still suffering from ill-health as a result of his pretrial torture, he was arrested the following day and incarcerated under harsh conditions of confinement.
Dr al-Samahiji is a 57-year-old ophthalmologist, who worked at Bahrain’s largest public hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Centre, specializing in microsurgery of the eye. He is well-respected in Bahrain for his medical work and was awarded a certificate and shield of appreciation by the Bahrain Medical Society for his diligence and dedication to medicine during 30 years of medical practice in ophthalmalogy. Dr. al-Samahiji was one of 48 Bahraini health professionals arrested in March and April 2011 for denouncing the excessive force used by the Bahraini government against protestors. (Amid growing protests against the Bahraini authorities in early 2011, the government cracked down on the protesters, violently clearing the main protest sites including the area around the al-Salmaniya Medical Centre.) While carrying out the majority of the surgical procedures on Bahrainis who suffered eye injuries during the protests, Dr. al-Samahiji witnessed firsthand the severity of the injuries sustained by the protestors when the government used violence to suppress them.
While held incommunicado in pretrial detention, Dr. al-Samahiji was severely tortured physically and psychologically. Following several weeks of intense torture that targeted his head and face, he suffered bleeding in his brain, cranial hypertension, and sixth cranial nerve palsy. Although he complained of blurred vision and severe headaches and said he had suffered from hypertension for many years, prison officials refused his requests for medical examination and care. Finally, he was examined in his cell by a fellow detainee, Dr. Toublani, who had been head of the Intensive Care Unit at Salmaniya Medical Centre. When Dr. Toublani realized the gravity of Dr. al-Samahiji’s medical condition, he warned prison officials that Dr. al-Samahiji would die if he did not immediately receive specialist medical treatment. On official orders, Dr. al-Samahiji was hospitalized and underwent surgeries and follow-up care. It is our understanding that he remains frail as a result of the severity of his brain injuries.
For more information on Dr. al-Samahiji's case, please see his case summary