Deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) barred from entering Bahrain to attend the trial

09 Jan 2012

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today called the trial of Bahraini medics accused of overthrowing the regime and other felonies “severely flawed.”

Despite allegations that the medics’ confessions were obtained through torture, the prosecutor refused to confirm that he will drop the medics’ confessions during today’s trial. PHR has continually called for qualified forensic and medical evaluations of all detainees in Bahrain using the gold standard of torture investigations – the U.N. Istanbul Protocol, which PHR helped to develop.

“Senior Bahraini cabinet members assured PHR that the medics would be given a brand new trial in a civilian court and that any confessions made during detention would be thrown out of court. What happened today proves that these were hollow promises and this new trial appears to be a continuation of the severely flawed military trial that first convicted the medics based on confessions that resulted from torture,” said PHR’s Deputy Director Richard Sollom. “Given that the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report found evidence of torture and the prosecutor openly acknowledged the allegations of torture in court today, all confessions must be thrown out. All medics and detainees should be examined by a forensic expert for evidence of psychological and physical torture.”

Over the weekend, Bahraini border authorities refused Sollom entrance into Bahrain to monitor the trial of medics who provided care for protestors during popular uprisings last year.

“If the government of Bahrain was genuinely committed to improving human rights, they wouldn’t be blocking independent human rights observers from entering the country,” said Richard Sollom.

The developments in today’s trial add to the growing list of human rights concerns in Bahrain. Today, the U.S. State Department said the government of Bahrain should investigate reports of excessive force used against demonstrators, following reports that Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was beaten by security forces responding to demonstrations last week. Recently, continued violent attacks on demonstrators including the excessive and inappropriate use of tear gas have also been reported.

The medics who are awaiting trial are facing continued harassment, discrimination, and financial hardship since they cannot resume their jobs with government or work in the private sector.

“As always, words are not enough when it comes to protecting human rights,” said PHR's Chief Policy Officer, Hans Hogrefe. “Bahrain needs to act in a manner that is consistent with the King’s promise to uphold human rights. The continued reliance on confessions derived from torture, the lack of fair and open trails, and the continued use of force against the people of Bahrain—these are not the signs of a government committed to human rights.”

PHR continues to call on the Government of Bahrain to unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, ensure fair and open trials, and stop all ongoing police raids and the excessive use of force against civilian protesters.

US rights activist denied entry

A top official from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said on Sunday that he was barred from entering Bahrain to attend the trial.

Richard Sollom, deputy director of the US-based organisation, told Al Jazeera that the country's ministry of human rights and social development had rejected his entry after he arrived at Manama's airport.

Sollom who has a five-year multiple entry visa told the AFP news agency that security officials said representatives from non-governmental organisations required special permits to enter the country.

"As soon as I arrived at the airport, immigration officials learned that I was representing the PHR, they immediately pulled me aside," he said.

"They called the ministry of human rights and social development, who told those officials to turn me back and that I was not welcome."

Sollom said he was told by an immigration officer that "it doesn't matter if you have a visa. We are under orders to ensure that NGO representatives got special permission".

Speaking to the AFP, Sollom said he does not believe the situation at the airport to be a matter of miscommunication.

"Unfortunately, I believe the prime minister does not want human rights groups or international journalists to be covering these trials, and to bear witness to the human rights violations that are still occuring in Bahrain."