“Now I am not Rula Al Saffar, I am Suha Bechara. I will get out of here just as she did.” With these words Rula cradled herself as she faced her unknown fate in the middle of a dark, scary cell, at a time that could not be any worse for Bahrain, and no one knows the full extent of the oppression that awaits. There is no place for anything but revenge on the audacity of roses and free speech. Rula kept repeating these words, believing that like “Bechara” she will survive and walk out victorious.
Who is Rula Al Saffar? Spent five months in National Security prison? To some she is an Academic and a Professional that ranks higher than a nurse and little below a doctor. But to the people of Bahrain she is “The Doctor.”
First Bahraini Nurse to achieve a Masters degree in Family Nursing, another Masters in Emergency and Intensive Care, and a third Masters in teaching and lecturing in nursing. She has been working in the nursing field since 1988 in the United States then Bahrain in 1996 as a teaching assistant in the Faculty of Health Sciences, & President of the International Training Center at the same Faculty, and President of the Emergency Nursing Program.
Al Saffar works in the Faculty of Science, instructor at Salmaniya Medical Complex, teaches nurses and doctors primary and advanced first aid.
Immersed in training volunteers on first aid, she got out of prison to continue her professional and humanitarian efforts. The Bahrain Nursing Society, which Rula presides, is striving to apply a program that trains 2000 volunteers, where a trained medic is available in every village, every home and every neighborhood.
The project started before 14 February 2011. Today more work is needed because the need for it became ever increasing. One of Bahrain Nursing Society’s achievements was the case it won back in 2005 following demands to change the nursing pay scale. In 2008 the nursing grade scale was moved from the General scale to the Professional scale, along with other employment benefits. Today the Ministry of Health wants to downgrade the benefits for nurses back to the old scale. She came.. she conquered..
Those that knew Rula Al Saffar before February 14 know that she has a strong personality, does not compromise and does not complement, tough and is not afraid of the reaction of her boldness, yet she has a very warm embrace to those in need. Her friends say when you are in a dire situation, in her presence, you cannot stop yourself from embracing her tightly. As she is the President of the Cancer Victims Support Committee, she ensured that she made herself available to all female cancer victims. That is why she is nicknamed Rufaida, or the Bahraini Mother Teresa.
Socially, Rula is a rather dominant figure as her presence fills the room. Her argumentative nature and high pitched laugh accompany this woman that is full of life and fun, when she is not called to action.
With the events of February 14, and the beginning of a bloody crackdown that resulted in a number of deaths and injuries, Rula was very affected by the violence that targeted her countrymen, and quickly started helping the protesters rescue the injured that were covered in blood in private cars, in what is known as "Bloody Thursday" 17th February 2011.
On March 15, the day Sitra was under vicious attack, Rula was in the hospital performing her professional and humanitarian duties. Because her students and colleagues hold high regard for her, her directions and orders were followed thoroughly. She sent out ambulances and stopped angry youth from going back to the scenes of conflict. Everyone accepted her leadership.
Bahrain Mirror interviewed Rula on the details of her first-hand experience inside prison, which she was taken to as a result for treating injured protesters, throughout this series. This is the Investigations Department..
I met my family on friday, the last friday before my incarceration. I prepared my husband and my brother for the news and asked them not to worry about me. I gave them my lawyer's private number, and my colleagues' contact details so they can help. That is when my niece started crying and saying "would you stop saying that?!
They might not take you to prison!"
She goes on to say " I was sitting at my front porch having tea, Dr Nihad Al Shirawi and Dr Jalila Al Aali were prepared for the tough time ahead of them. I sent a text message to my friend Ibrahim Al Demestani asking how are your children? The Reply was "thank god." I was not convinced by his unexpected reply. That was when he called back and I answered, but the voice said "this is the Investigations department.. we would like a little chat with you.""
I knew that Al Demestani was arrested, and that they called me from his mobile phone. It was 7:30 in the evening so I declined their request. I said that I was coming tomorrow as I don't have a car. "Get a taxi if you need to" they said in a commanding tone. I declined again as it was late and my husband was sleeping. With a harsher tone they said would you rather come here or want to us to drag you from your home?
I wore a smart formal dress and called my lawyer. He said "you're going to be arrested and not a simple chat, change into something comfortable." I called my brother and my best friend and told them about it. As my husband was driving me there, they called every 10 to 15 minutes asking where I was.
As I got there they did not allow my husband to enter. They asked him to come back in two hours and a half to pick me up. I handed him my watch and my wedding ring. The female officer said "there's no need for that." That was when I got a sense of relief. But as soon as I got into their snare, I was blindfolded, hands tied behind my back, and the man that let us in started hitting me. I knew him from his unique movement. I am not Rula Al Saffar
I stood blindfolded, hands tied behind my back, in the first torture session. I saw it as a venture that I had no choice but to endure, but I will win eventually. I put a challenge to myself; I am not Rula Al Saffar, I am Suha Bechara. and I will get out of here just as she did for sure. I started my first lesson with myself, continuously reading silent prayers over pain. I know these prayers by heart, imagining it spreading all over my body that was whipped in different parts, imagining that I ,left it for them to kick and smack, but kept hold of my soul, free from their utterly disgraceful language which I never imagined, and would not allow to defy me.
I invented this method where I would keep on repeating in defiance, and seem to get out of their grip and cell bars, reviving hope before it fades away. Like a torch that chases darkness. During this ordeal I discovered myself, and the ability god has given me to resist all sorts of humiliation and fear. Thank goodness for the ability to separate myself from my body as I did in the presence of the most merciless torturers. I would not cry
The torture session started from 3 in the afternoon until 3:30 in the morning. On the third day they pulled back my hair and cut it in a violent and humiliating way, as I still remember the swoosh of the scissors chopping off my hair. I remember how they posted a paper on my back saying: Kick her; smack her, do whatever you want to her
Rula continues "There is a special unit that prolongs the torture as long as the detainee is uncooperative. As I am strong-headed by nature, especially with these criminals, the days turned into weeks in an attempt to break me and enjoy my humiliation, but I would not allow them to rob me of my spirit and dignity. I mustered all the patience I had, thinking of Suha's defiance all the time."
The first night I stood blindfolded, hands tied behind my back, and the Air Conditioning set to its lowest degree freezing my hands and feet, and hurting my joints. That was one of the first spring days in Bahrain where the weather is relatively cold during this time. Monday 4th of April 2011 - I am ordered to stand still, quiet, not even reclining on a wall. My legs tied together for added fatigue, so I fell unconscious.
To them the body becomes weak, and falls, but the spirit springs it up again, standing proud. Another day arrives and so I repeat the same mantra and the same prayer. The same prayers we used to recite in the area at the Emergency Unit during the protest at Salmaniya Hospital. That prayer that touches my heart and takes me to a safe place. It means alot to me as we used to recite it in the Intensive Care unit at the climax of the crisis. It alleviates people's fears and wounds. Why are they taking my blood?
Throughout the first week, as I was tied with the painful handcuffs, they would take a sample of my blood at midnight. Without preparation or asking for permission, they would pull out my arm and inject a needle without sterilization. They would retort to any cry of pain with vile insults. Someone would violently grab my jaws, opening my mouth, and taking a sample of my saliva every two days. Once I was taken to the Fort (Ministry of Interior headquarters) for analysis. Even my blood was up for investigation; but why? It would scare me because I don't know why they did that. Could it be to frame me in another false accusation especially that my arm started turning blue? Seven Days Without Sleep
Seven days without sleep and continuous torture be it day or night, eyes blindfolded, Jalila Al Aali, Nehad Al Sherawi, and I were taken in a car for an hour and a half. They deceived us into thinking we were taken to Saudi Arabia. I thought to myself it must be Dammam. But after we got out of the car I heard whispers between the policewomen. One of the nurses, I recognized her voice because I taught her before, this is Rula Al Saffar. Look at her? How can she do this? I knew we didn't leave Bahrain.
The policewoman said "We're taking you to apartments. Each one of you will get a separate toilet." I thought the Investigations department was the women's dorms. I was surprised by the sheer number of women in that prison. Prostitutes, drug addicts were in there. I asked under what law is this? The policewoman replied "you will know later.
It was a mixture of emotions and dread seeing the big number of intimidating women that I am not used to, I looked around asking where I am? But the policewoman asks back "Which one is your close friend?" So I said there is no difference, we're all good friends, so they split us up, each in a cell with one of those women. Each cell had a double bunk bed. As my luck would have it I shared my cell with a drug addict.
I asked her if I could take the top bed, which turned out to lack a pillow or even a cover given the low Air Conditioning temperature, which seemed like an additional torture technique. I got on the bed, in my dirty clothes, with nothing apart from my towel. I was happy to lay down my aching body after a week of torture. Finally I would sleep. The towel did not help protect me from the low temperature. My body was shivering, and so the bed was shivering along with it.
My cellmate woke up and gave up her cover to me. Although I am obsessive about cleanliness and hygiene, and would not normally use someone else's personal belongings, I accepted her offer. She covered me gently as I asked "what about you?" She said "do not worry." I will never forget this woman as long as I live. I woke up terrified and distraught from a very loud voice. After a short shock I realized its the morning call to prayer coming from the microphone at a very high volume level. It was morning, so I asked if I could perform Morning Prayer and to go to the bathroom. A policewoman escorted me to the bathroom and was constantly rushing me in an irritating manner.
We could not go to the toilet in a normal manner. We were given one minute only to relieve ourselves and three minutes to shower. The policewoman would stand behind the door and knock constantly on it. After Morning Prayer national songs would be played at the same high volume continuously until 7 AM. It remained that way until June when they took our complaint.