Two Bahraini women activists detained for their involvement in pro-reform protests have begun a hunger strike to demand their freedom.
Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, and Jalila al-Salman, vice-president of the Bahrain Teacher’s Association (BTA), have been held for several months near the capital Manama. Both women allege they were tortured in detention.
"Jalila al-Salman and Roula al-Saffar’s decision to go on hunger strike is a desperate attempt to protest against their imprisonment and the way they have been treated," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"Amnesty International is concerned that they are being held solely because of their involvement in protests, in which case they would both be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally. ”
They are the only two women in Bahrain awaiting trial in connection with the protests who remain in prison. They currently share a cell at a detention centre in ‘Issa Town, south of Manama. Other women protesters are also awaiting trial, but have been released on bail.
Jalila al-Salman was among several board members of the BTA arrested in Manama after the group called for a teachers’ strike amid wide-scale pro-reform protests in March.
Roula al-Saffar was among a group of health professionals accused of committing felonies during the protests, including theft of medicines. The group strongly denies the accusation.
Jalila al-Salman was allegedly beaten during the first days of detention while Roula al-Saffar has said she was subjected to beatings, electric shocks and verbal abuse during the first 11 days of her detention.
“The Bahraini authorities must fully investigate these reports of torture without further delay, particularly because they appear to be part of a disturbingly widespread pattern of ill-treatment against protesters in detention,” said Philip Luther.
Jalila al-Salman faces trial on charges that include “inciting hatred against the regime” and “calling to overthrow and change the regime by force”.
Amnesty International has been told that the two women have gone on hunger strike to protest about the fact that they still remain in prison, while others have been released on bail, as well as the torture they say they were subjected to in detention.
At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.
Scores of detainees, including medical professionals and prominent opposition activists, were brought before military courts for leading the protests and in some cases calling for a change of government.