Bahrain Doctors Face Prison After Protests

This week, a military court in Bahrain handed down harsh sentences to 20 doctors and medical personnel accused of stockpiling weapons and illegally occupying a hospital during recent protests. The doctors say they're being punished for treating demonstrators injured in anti-government protests. Host Scott Simon speaks with Dr. Fatima Hajji, one of the medical professionals sentenced to prison.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. This week, a military court in Bahrain handed down harsh sentences to 20 doctors and medical personnel accused of stockpiling weapons, and illegally occupying a hospital during recent protests. The doctors say they're innocent, even though 18 of them signed confessions. They say they're being punished for treating demonstrators injured in anti-government protests.

A: Some people may find portions of her account graphic and disturbing.

FATIMA HAJJI: I saw like 25 or 30 men wearing masks on their faces. Then they just dragged me out of the house. Later on I found out that I was taking to the criminal interrogation department. And before starting the interrogation they just start beating me and kicking me and slapping on my face, on my head. Then they just tied up my legs and they start hitting me with something like a pipe.

SIMON: So the confession that they got from you was gained under torture?

HAJJI: Yes. The nights after that they start to threaten me and sexually abusing me. I was always scared and not pleased. I was alone with men, they were laughing at me and asking me to imitate the sounds of animals and then to do sexual sounds. And then they were telling me that they would rape me one after the other. They threatened also to bring my kid and harm him. They told me if you want to stop and sign these papers. I told him I'd sign anything. Then they gave me a bunch of papers. They did not allow me to read, they just let me sign those papers. And then I found later on in the court that those papers were taken as the main evidence against me.

SIMON: I think it's hard for anybody listening to understand what you went through.

HAJJI: It's hard for me to believe that I've been through all this. You know, sometimes I'm like - when I think back what happened I always think about it as if it was happening to somebody else, that those happened in a movie, it did not happen to me. And I start really to think that every day that those things happen to me, I don't know how I would cope with it.

SIMON: What are you going to do?

HAJJI: Nothing. And if we can go back I would do exactly the same thing and which I did because this is not wrong, this is absolutely right. And I'm a doctor and I'm a human being and those are my people. And if I saw anyone injured, regardless of who it is, if he's Bahraini or not, if he's Sunni or Shiite, if he is Jew or Christian, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day when you see somebody who needs help, you would help them.

SIMON: You have a family don't you, doctor?

HAJJI: Yes, I'm married. I have a three-year-old son. His name is Joseph. And thinking that I'm going to be in prison for the coming five years is breaking my heart. But I did video to record myself telling him that I love him and I will miss him and that I'm innocent. And I just wanted him to see that after a few years when he would start to understand what's going on.

SIMON: Dr. Fatima Hajji is one of a group of medical professionals in Bahrain who have been sentenced to prison. They're appealing the sentences tomorrow and have asked the United Nations for an investigation.

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