Dr Nada Dhaif, aged 38, is an oral and dental surgeon who trained at Cairo University in Egypt and graduated in 1996. After her graduation she worked for a private hospital in Bahrain for 6 years and then established her own private dental practice in 2002. Recently Dr Dhaif has recently been undertaking postgraduate training in Interceptive, Functional and Neuromuscular Orthodontics through the International College of Neuromuscular Orthodontics & Gnathology (ICNOC) in Italy.
Nada is married and has two daughters, aged 7 and 8, of whom she is very proud. Her daughters, who have been taught 3 languages since nursery, have a very close relationship with Nada, who always encourages them with their education and also the engagement in charity and community work, through the visiting of children cancer and special needs patients to whom they read stories, share gifts with and bake cakes and cookies.
Nada’s sister is Bahrain’s award winning and controversial journalist Lamees Dhaif, who is known for speaking out on social issues, and has been subject to several death threats through social media networks. Nada’s husband has also received an anonymous threat through a call to his mobile phone stating that both he and his children would be attacked.
Since the protests began in Bahrain on 14th February, Dr Dhaif volunteered her spare time to offer medical assistance, together with other medics, through the establishment of the medical tent at Pearl Roundabout, under the full approval of the Ministry of Health. This included administering treatment to people who were not able to access the main hospitals during the demonstrations, including in particular a number of casualties received during the government clamp down on the roundabout on February 17th 2011.
Dr Dhaif was arrested without warrant on 19th March 2011 from her beach house, by masked and armed security forces who had first broken into her family home, held her elderly parents at gunpoint for two hours, and taken her personal belongings, including computers, cameras and jewelry.
After torture and detention over a seven week period she was later charged in a military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The charges included:
- Unauthorized possession of weapons and ammunition;
- Enticing sectarian hatred;
- Colonizing the hospital;
- Attempts to occupy buildings by force;
- Dissemination of false news;
- Participation in unauthorized rallies and meetings;
- Inciting the overthrow of the regime ;
- Stealing medical equipments.
Here is a written testiomony that Doctors In Chains received directly from Dr Nada Dhaif regarding her arrest and subsequent trial in the military court:
“19th March, 2011, 1.30 a.m. – family held hostage at gunpoint and house searched. Forty masked thugs in civilian clothes, armed with guns, pistols, etc. arrive at my parents’ house in Mahooz in over 10 cars at 1.30 a.m. Because I was not a resident of the house, my 80-year-old father is held hostage at gunpoint along with my mother, two brothers and 14-year-old nephew, while my other brother is obliged to lead the thugs to my home in Amwaj at gunpoint. Around 12 officers remain at my parents’ home. They verbally threaten my parents, who were held throughout at gunpoint and prevented from moving neither to use the bathroom nor to take medication. No arrest warrant was shown. The officers search the house and in the process break one of the doors of a storage room and are about to break into my sister’s room by kicking the door in, when my mother offers them the key to open it, without providing any official arrest or search warrant to
19th March, 2011, 3.a.m. – arrest, house searched, possessions taken. Five or more security force cars arrive at my house in Amwaj. The occupants bang on the door aggressively until my husband opens it. They directed themselves straight to my bedroom and arrest me at gunpoint, while three masked thugs search the room and approximately 18 others search the rest of the house, room by room, apart from my children’s bedroom. They took around US$13,200 worth of computer equipment, phones and laptops and US$22,000 worth of gold and diamond jewellery. After 45 minutes I was blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to an unknown location. On the journey I was verbally abused and threatened. I was told: “bin raweech”(we will show you / teach you a lesson). I was the first female to be detained.
Interrogation. On arrival at the unknown location (which, after 10 days, I identify as CID -Central Intelegence Deirectroate- in Adliya from the conversation of officers), I was immediately interrogated. During the 3-hours-long interrogation I suffered verbal abuse and the following physical abuse:
- Beatings of the neck and head by hand,
- Slaps to my face causing bleeding,
- Spat at and kicked and numbness was induced around my ear by an electrical device.
I was told that 14 officers were present (although I cannot see them, I can hear many voices) and was threatened with rape and death. I was told that: “No one in the country can do anything about this because of the state of emergency” – implication being, with the aim of instilling fear, that the officers can act with impunity.
I was not questioned directly about anything, but am subject to a barrage of accusations – such as that I have links with Iran, possesses weapons and fund the purchase of weapons – to which I am is obliged to respond affirmatively or been beaten.
When my blindfold is removed for trips to the bathroom and at the end of the interrogation, I sees that my abusive interrogator is a short, fat, hairy woman with a harsh voice.
Being unaware of any real signs of officialdom, I was worried that I has been kidnapped by a gang and was extremely frightened.
Filthy cell and solitary confinement. After the interrogation I was taken to a small, filthy, bare, insect-infested wooden cell where I was held in solitary confinement for 22 days, the first 10 of which I remained blindfolded and handcuffed.
First week of detention.
I was subject to sleep disruption through the walls and door being kicked and banged every hour, made to wait for long periods of time before being allowed to use the bathroom, forced in the early mornings after dawn prayers to sing the Bahraini national anthem and to curse opposition figures . Female and male officers beat me continually. Four times I lost consciousness and was taken into the Ministry of Interior hospital through a back door for treatment, but without records being kept.
Lieutenant Colonel interrogates me every other day for 22 days. He uses very abusive language (refers to me continually as rafidi/majoos/child of muta’a) and tells me that he will make sure that I will not see sunshine for 25 years. Threatens to arrest my husband, accusing him of money laundering and being a thief. Interrogators sexually harasses me by saying you Shia enter into muta’a marriage (pleasure marriage) and also curses Shia sectarian religious beliefs and figures, he says “was a paedophile”. Oddly, the interrogators also question me about how much my husband earns, whether I owns my house or rents, my children’s school fees, and what types of cars I drive.
During the first day of detention I am forced to stand for 24 hours under threat of being beaten if I sit. On the second day I was given a chair and, after a week, a sleeping mattress. I was denied access to my lawyer and prohibited from phoning my family for a week, after which a one-minute monitored phone call to only request clothes was permitted.
A few hours after the interrogation ends, I am dragged to a corridor in the anti-narcotics/drugs department where a female officer tells me not to speak a word and removes the blindfold so that I can see oral and maxillo-facial surgeon, Dr. Ghassan Dhaif, being beaten by 7 men in civilian clothes, All were shouting at Dr. Ghassan, demanding that he tells them “the name of the person funding the medical tent”. He replies “Nada Dhaif”, as he is being slapped and punched on his head and neck.
On the same day, a wooden bench and a few chairs are brought into my cell. I ask the guard if Imight lie down on the bench, as I was only partially conscious and my back hurts from the beating. Guard says, “OK, only for little while, because traitor like you on political cases should not be allowed to sit.” then I am allowed to lie down for a few minutes only.
Although blindfolded and handcuffed, I can partially see two thin females and two boys who have been brought into the room. One lady leaves for few hours, while a girl and the two boys remain. A man comes in and asks the guard to make me stand and face the wall. When I stand, he beats me about her head, neck and back. I lose consciousness and, after being drenched in cold water, wakes up on the floor. A few hours later I was called to sign some papers in another room in the same building and I hear the voice of Dr. Zahra Alsamak. Two female officers were shouting at her: “If you are not satisfied with what the King has given you then go back to Iran”.
Second week of detention
Interrogations continue with the verbal abuse, but less beating. I was called a “whore”, “bitch”, “child of muta’a” (an anti-Shia curse), “Shia child of sin”, “Shia child of a bitch”, etc. The threats of rape also continue. I was kept in solitary confinement and, for the entire period in CID Adliya (22 days), I am prevented from sleeping by noise in order to weaken me mentally and physically. I suffered from visual and auditory hallucination and suicidal thoughts. I also suffers allergies, rashes and severe aches and pains. I am given no fresh clothes and was not allowed to bathe for one week.
Third week of detention
I am taken to the Militry Prosecution for military interrogation. This is more intensive and the torture were much more severe than before. I was made to stand throughout the session. I was beaten with shoes, glass beakers are thrown at me, I was verbally tortured and threatened with rape. An officer (referred to from here on as Officer X) threatens: “I am a fornicator and I am ready for you”, you “whore”, “lesbian”, etc. He demands that I confesses that meetings of a ‘secret cell’ of SMC –Salmania Medical Complex- have taking place at my beach house in Amwaj. This is the secret cell that is allegedly responsible for occupying the SMC, plotting to overthrow the regime, faking injuries, exaggerating the number of protesters that have been wounded and stealing blood from Blood Bank in SMC for throwing on the protesters. Asked by Officer X how many protests I have been participating! I admit to having been to one protest at SMC calling for the resignation of the Health Minister and, on March 8th, a protest to mark International Women’s Day. Officer X responds by shouting and cursing and takes off his shoes to throw at my, hitting my shaft bone. He insists that I must have attended more protests, at which point he drags in Dr. Bassem Dhaif from his cell to confront Dr Nada Dhaif. Officer X asks him how many protests did Dr. Nada attend and he replies, “Dr. Nada Dhaif is not working in Salmaniya Hospital and she has no relation with the SMC.” Officer X then shouts at him, “That is not my question. My question was how many protests did she participate in”. Dr. Bassem replies, “Maybe 2 or 3”. He is then taken away. Officer X then says, “See it is more than one.” Where upon I confesses to attending two protests. I was then made to sign confessional papers while blindfolded without reading it nor reviewing. I was also forced to confess on camera in CID Adliya, under the interrogator that if I do not confess he will break my neck.
By the end of this week, three other female doctors (Nihad Alshirawi, Khulood Alderazi, Khulood Alsayyad) and one nurse (Rula Alsaffar) arrived CID. Dr. I was blindfolded again.
Fourth week of detention
I was moved to Isa Town Jail. The physical torture stops, but the verbal abuse continues. They, constantly calls me and the other detainees “scum”, “traitors”, “killers” and “murderers”. Despite other detainees in the jail being allowed to walk around freely, watch TV, eat in the kitchen and call family twice a day, the ‘political detainee’ group are forced to stay in their rooms and are escorted to the bathroom at all times. This treatment continues for 12 days. The political detainees are separated from each other and put in a different cell with other nationalities. The Lieutenant refuses to allow me calling my family even once to check on my children, despite not having spoken to them for a month. The political detainees are awoken at 5 a.m. every morning and, with the aim of degrading and humiliating us, forced to clean the bathrooms, remove the trash, clean the trash bins, carry heavy catering dishes (despite my back complications), while all the time being mocked.
Fifth week of detention (around mid-April)
Political detainees, including myself are transferred to the ground floor and allowed to meet and walk freely. During Weeks 4 and 5, I continue to be taken back to CID Adliya for further interrogation and to sign false confessions documents. After which I was allowed to call my family twice a week.
One day during this week the medical professionals, including myself, were collected to film confessions for Bahrain TV. I was told by an officer “We do not want to take further steps with you, or to be harsh with you. Save yourself and, when you go in front of the camera, say what you did, such as that you helped the protesters at Lulu roundabout because you hate the regime and the king, and that you helped the protesters financially to overthrow the regime. Also say how the opposition figures were inciting the protesters. Say you also funded the medical tent at the roundabout and that you and Dr. Abdulkhaliq AlOraibi stole medications and medical equipment from SMC. You have to mention these details in front of the camera. You also have to say that Dr. Ali AlEkri was the one ordering you to do this”.
On camera I am required to confess that I had funded the medical tent at the Pearl roundabout and I set it up on the direct orders of Dr. Ali AlEkri. That Dr. Ali had also ordered me and Dr. Abdulkhaleq to steal medical equipment and medicine from the central pharmacy at SMC. I am to say that the equipment included patient beds, saline holders, stretchers, BP apparatus and various other items, and medicines such as pain killers, antibiotics, antihistamines, diabetes and blood pressure drugs.
A higher officer tells me, “In order not to get yourself hurt, just say these things and get it over with”. I am told that at the end of the filming I must apologise , and admit that I have abused the Hippocratic oath and am a disgrace to my profession. Although there was no truth in what she I was obliged to confess I, nevertheless, does as I am instructed to avoid the physical and verbal abuse I have been threatened with.
The whole experience was like lambs being taken to slaughter. I was aware that the confessions could lead to sentences as severe as the death penalty or very long prison sentences. I find it a very traumatising and draining experience to be treated in this way and watch the other doctors being abused. For a moment I believe that my persecutors will get away with all this and that I and the other doctors will be abandoned to their fate.
Sixth and seventh week of detention
My health deteriorates physically and mentally. Suicidal thoughts increase following the filming because of the fear that in a military court my confessions could lead to very heavy sentences. I request to see a psychiatrist; but was refused initially. However, I was given an unlimited and un-prescribed amount of antidepressant drugs such as Zanax and others. At one point I consider taking an overdose. In week 7, a psychiatrist, visits me for 10 minutes and gives me extra medication.
Day of release in May
I was taken back to CID where I was forced to sign documents, which state we were not tortured. I was threatened with re-arrest, or that another member of my family will be arrested, if I should speak to the media. They threatened her to fabricate a drug-related case if I speak to the media.
The aftermath and ongoing post-detention trauma
After I was released, I suffer from insomnia. Given that it was at night that I was arrested, me and my husband find it difficult to sleep during the hours of darkness because of fear of re-arrest.
Because of the physical torture I endured, I suffer from numbness in both hands, a severe shooting and radiating pain in the neck, shoulder and back areas where I was beaten. I continue to involuntarily drop things from my hands, like a mobile phone, cups and small items.
I have not been able to practice at my clinic to the extent I did previously. Given that I am a dentist, my handwork has been seriously affected. I can carry out simple treatments; but one month after her release, I am still not able to undertake intensive dental work. Financially, I have incurred large losses in her clinic.
My 8 years old daughter suffers from nightmares because of my sudden and mysterious absence from the home.
Socially I have found it difficult to interact, particularly because of the public nature of her case. Details of my whereabouts and malicious rumours about me continue to circulate on the internet and have induced paranoia. I am known, in particular, for my television appearance on Aljazeera, CNN, BBC TV chanels and because my photo was circulated in campaigns to release me. Bahrain is very small, so people often stop me when I am out in public.
The general security environment remains hostile and threatening towards me. I fear that I may be targeted in my clinic and that an assassination attempt may be made against me by certain extreme/radical social elements.
2nd June, 2011 – I receive summons orders to attend Sepcial Tribunal Court (Military Court) on Sunday, 5th June’ 2011.
5th June, 2011 – On arriving at court we find that the trial has been postponed to the next day, because of a last-minute decision to hear all the medic cases all together, 48 members.
6th June, 2011 - I arrive at court at 7am. Military officer took me to a small room to which Rula Al-saffar is brought, along with Dr. Najah Khalil from prison. Then hearing is adjourned until 13th June.
13th June, 2011 – During this hearing where Mr. Michael Posner, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights, the defendants are asked to state guilty or not guilty plea. Dr. Ali Al Ekri proclaims he is, “not guilty and all my confessions were obtained under torture.” The Military Judge shouts at him. Rula Al-saffar does the same, and the Military Judge shouts out that if anyone speaks any word other than “quilty or not” will be punished with a further subsequences. Nevertheless, Dr. Zahra Al-Sammak also caries out that she was tortured, then the Military Judge shouts at her and orders her out of the court. Playing by the rules, I ask to speak to her lawyer and the Military Judge grants permission. My lawyer then twice makes a request for me to speak to the judge, but the Military Judge declines repeatedly.
The show trail went on, with state witnesses hearing along with defence witnesses, which whoever were asked about my presence at SMC denied seeing me at the hospital.”
On 14th June 2012, largely due to international pressure and your support with this campaign, Dr Nada Dhaif was acquitted of all charges. She must now be reinstated to her work, fairly compensated for her ordeal, and her torturers must be brought to justice. Some of her colleagues were not so fortunate and now face a return to prison.
This video is an interview of Nada by Front Line Defenders:
This is Nada on 12th June 2012 speaking in Dublin shortly before the appeal verdict was delivered.
If you would like to post hear a message of support to Nada you may use the form below. Please note that all messages will be moderated and abusive ones will not be published. This wonderful lady has suffered far too much already!
You can also read Dr Saeed Al Samahiji’s testimony here.