Medical Professional Imprisoned on Politically Motivated Charges


Last month, Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji, a Bahraini ophthalmologist, was arrested from his home to begin serving a one-year prison sentence after being convicted of “insulting the King of Bahrain” at a funeral last year. Dr. al-Samahiji was among 20 medics in Bahrain that were convicted by a special military court on September 29, 2011, for treating Bahraini citizens who had been attacked by security forces in the brutal government crackdown in response to peaceful protests in February of that year. After appealing to the Court of Appeals on June 14, 2012, Dr. al-Samahiji’s sentence was reduced from ten years to one year.
On September 18, 2013, less than six months after being released from prison, Dr. al-Samahiji was summoned for interrogation by the Criminal Investigation Department following the funeral of a young protester who had died as result of excessive use of force by Bahraini authorities. Dr. al-Samahiji was charged with “insulting the King,” a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Despite Dr. al-Samahiji denying the charge and his lawyer’s statements that his speech falls under the right of freedom of expression, as protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the court sentenced him to one year in prison. On April 3, 2014, a court of appeal upheld the verdict delivered against Dr. al-Samahiji. Government security forces arrested Dr. al-Samahiji at his home in the early morning hours on July 1, 2014, to begin serving his prison sentence.

The arrest of Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji is the latest in the Bahraini government’s escalating crackdown on the freedom of expression. That Dr. al-Samahiji was previously targeted and imprisoned for performing his medical duty in treating injured protestors is not a coincidence. Intimidation through arbitrary arrest and politically motivated charges has become a standard practice used by the government to quell dissent from protesters, and the medics who treat them.

Saman Naquvi is grassroots advocacy associate at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, a member of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition. Photo of Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji courtesy of ADHRB.