Release detained Bahraini teachers says TUC
August 2011 Release detained Bahraini teachers says TUC
The TUC and Amnesty International are calling for the release of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, two members of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA) who were arrested during the unrest in March and April 2011. They remain incarcerated awaiting trial in a civilian court, which has been postponed until further notice.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to HE Rashid Al-Khalifa, Bahraini Ambassador to the UK, expressing serious concerns over their continued detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. He urged the Government to immediately release them and to hold to account those responsible for their arrest and possible abuse.
Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, together with several other board members of the BTA, were arrested in March and April 2011. While their colleagues were released, they were brought to trial before the National Safety Court of First Instance (a military court) on 15 June on charges which include 'inciting hatred towards the regime', 'calling to overthrow and change the regime by force', 'calling on parents not to send their children to school' and 'calling on teachers to stop working and participate in strikes and demonstrations'. After further hearings on 22 and 29 June - their trial was transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
Jalila al-Salman's house in Manama was raided on 29 March by more than 40 security officers. She was reportedly taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) in Manama where she remained for about a week during which she was reportedly beaten, including with objects, and held in solitary confinement. She is believed to have been transferred to the custody of the military and held there for around two months, before being transferred again to a detention centre in 'Issa Town in Bahrain, where she is currently held. Jalila al-Salman's family were not aware of her whereabouts until soon after her transfer to the detention centre in 'Issa Town and have only been allowed to see her there on two occasions. The second of these visits was on 16 July, and was under very strict surveillance.
Amnesty International has reviewed statements issued by the BTA. One of them, published on 13 March, called on teachers and employees of the Ministry of Education to go on strike, and on parents not to take their children to school during large-scale demonstrations in Bahrain. Amnesty International has also listened to speeches delivered by Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb that made similar appeals. It has, however, seen no evidence that either of them advocated violence of any kind in these or other activities. Consequently, although the organization does not have the full details of the evidence presented so far in the trial, it believes that they are likely to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly as leading members of the BTA.
Please go to the Amnesty International page for further information on this appeal and see ITUC Annual Survey of Trade Union Violations for information on trade union violations in Bahrain.
2 August 2011 HE Shaikh Khalifa Bin Ali Al Khalifa Ambassador Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain Dear Ambassador
Detention of Bahrain Teacher's Association members
Further to my letter of 24 May 2011, I am now writing to express our deep concern over the continued detention of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Madhdi Abu Dheeb of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA) for exercising their legitimate rights as trade unionists.
Jalila and Mahdi, together with several of their colleagues, were arrested after calling on teachers and employees of the Ministry of Education to go on strike. Jalila was taken from her home in Manama on 29 March 2011 by members of the Criminal Investigation Directorate, detained for about a week and reportedly beaten and held in solidarity confinement. She was transferred to military custody for two months. She has since been transferred again to a detention centre in Isa Town, Manama where she remains.
Their colleagues have been released but they remain in detention, facing trial on charges which include inciting hatred towards the regime and calling on teachers to stop working and participate in strikes and demonstrations. No trial date has been set.
In considering the Bahraini government's allegations against them, Amnesty International concluded that: 'they are likely to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly as leading members of the BTA'. I am attaching Amnesty International's urgent action appeal for your information.
I urge your government to release them immediately and unconditionally. I also urge the authorities to protect them from torture and other ill-treatment and immediately set up an impartial and public investigation that brings to justice those found responsible for what has happened to them.
I hope you give this important matter your immediate attention and look forward to your response.
In that regard, I would also appreciate a reply from you to my letter of 24 May 2011 where I raised serious concerns about the mass sackings of workers.
Yours sincerely BRENDAN BARBER General Secretary General document (900 words) issued 4 Aug 2011
BYSHR: Open Letter to:Head of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)
Open Letter: Mr. Cherif Bassiouni Head of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)
Subject: Questions Relating to Your Interview with Reuters on 05/08/2011
WE, at the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), along with many people in Bahrain, had been very skeptical upon receiving news that a commission of inquiry, appointed by the King of Bahrain, had been established. Especially, since we were expecting one to be set up by the High Commission for Human Rights at the United Nations. This was until we heard the names of the individuals who were charged with the commission, for they were renowned for their work in international justice and human rights. We then became hopeful, that this may present itself as an opportunity for the victims of the latest human rights violations, to have their cases heard, documented and reported by a commission run by individuals whose reputation precedes them.
We therefore welcomed the commission from the start, and encouraged people to cooperate by testifying to your investigators, although many had been skeptical and frightened from coming forward.
Consequently, you cannot imagine our disappointment upon reading the content of your interview with Reuters. There are several points we wished to bring to your attention:
1. You stated in your interview that: “It’s totally untrue that people are afraid of coming forward. It’s not the case that they don’t have anxieties, but that’s because they’ve had bad experiences and they don’t know where this is going.” WE, at the BYSHR work directly with victims, and have been active the entire period following the February unrest in documenting cases of torture, abuse and mistreatment. We do not hesitate in stating that from our deliberations with victims, many, if not most, have told us that they are genuinely afraid of the consequences of their testifying once your esteemed Commission has left. Yet they came forward, despite that fear, in hope that this may help the situation and document the mass violations that took place. This is also despite the fact that we could not provide any real guarantees for their safety other than, as you mentioned, “the kings promise” which for many victims is no protection.
2. You stated in your interview: “What I have found so far is the extraordinary willingness of the minister to listen to anything we bring to his attention and act on it, whether it’s suspension of police officers, arrest of police officers, or release of detainees,”.
“It leads me to believe that on his part there was never a policy of excessive use of force or torture…that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I think it was a case of people at the lower level acting, and there not being an effective chain of communication, control.”
There are two point worth mentioning relating to this point. Firstly, we at the BYSHR believe that it is too early for a conclusion like that to be made given that the inquiry is still ongoing, and do not believe that cooperation on the part of the Minister exonerates him from responsibility. There are credible reports from international human rights organizations for many years now stating that torture and other violations in Bahrain are systematic. That you have concluded that it is not so, just 3 weeks into the investigation and before the commission concludes its work is unprofessional and puts the entire Commissions proceedings into question. Furthermore, it hurts the credibility of the Commission, as many victims now are refusing to testify to the commission when we refer them.
Secondly, abuses, torture, and mistreatment that has reached this level, as to be condemned by the European Parliament, the General Secretary of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International,Human Rights First, Frontline, FIDH, IFEX, High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as Doctors Without Borders, Physicians for Human Rights and others, can hardly be “ a case of people at the lower level acting, and there not being an effective chain of communication, control.” This statement removes the burden of responsibility from the people who make the decisions and is highly alarming. We are not discussing a small number of victims, we are talking about ALL the victims that we have documented, complaining of some form of torture. These complaints of torture can be collaborated by many reports by international human rights organizations as well as local ones. And sacrificing a small number of individuals at the “lower level” is unjustifiable and will not begin to explain the breadth, magnitude and similarities of torture methods used in different prisons and detention centers.
We at the BYSHR respectfully request clarifications on the above mentioned points, for it may help in restoring the credibility of the Commission with the victims. We will continue to refer victims to the Commission as we had before, and will work on the documentation of the cases. We are willing to cooperate with the Commission in any manner that will serve the victims.
Sir, your commission has a responsibility towards these victims, towards this country, the international community and towards history, to make sure that the truth is revealed.
Thanking you kindly,
Mr.Mohammed Al-Maskati – President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Mr.Nader Al-Salatna – Vice President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Bahrain denies entry for Aljazeera staff: Report
07 August 2011
DOHA: Bahraini authorities are so upset with Doha-based Aljazeera TV Channel that they are reportedly not allowing the Channel’s staff — both Qatari nationals and expatriates — into the country.
There is an unofficial entry ban on Aljazeera staff into Manama, say social networking sites in Qatar as well as in Bahrain. The move might be fallout of a documentary English Aljazeera telecast on Wednesday, they suggested.
This, however, could not be independently confirmed by this newspaper since it was a weekend and officials were not available for comment.
The documentary entitled ‘Shouting In The Dark’ aired a shocking account of the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.
The film follows the unraveling of the protests in Bahrain from its initial days last February and documents the ruthless ways in which the security agencies handled the uprising.
The documentary has, meanwhile, triggered a heated debate on social networking sites in Qatar and Bahrain with a majority of participants faulting Aljzaeera English Channel for its portrayal of the Bahraini uprising.
People have also been twitting messages with most of them saying that they are with Bahrain and that Aljazeera English Channel had no business focusing on the goings on in the neighboring Bahrain.
People commenting on social websites in Qatar say they wonder how the Bahraini authorities have been able to blacklist entire Aljazeera staff and not allow them entry into their territory.
“It’s surprising how Bahraini authorities come to know that a particularly Qatari visiting Manama is working with Aljazeera because Qatari passports do not mention the holder’s nature and place of work,” said a commentator.
Another commentator said that one of his fellow Qatari friends who went to Manama by air was not allowed entry into the country and turned back by the airport immigration authorities.
“This is even true of those going to Bahrain by road via Saudi Arabia, They are being turned back from the border although they are all Qatari citizens,” said yet another commentator.
According to still another commentator, a senior administration official of Al Jazeera who resigned a year ago, was also not allowed to enter Bahrain.
The commentators are largely unhappy with Al Jazeera English Channel and say they wonder why it is supporting Shia protesters in Bahrain and spoiling Qatar’s relations with the friendly neighbour.
At least one commentator said that he backed the Bahraini move to prevent Al Jazeera staff from entering the country because the English channel was constantly supporting the Shia protesters.
A website in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, reported yesterday that the Al Jazeera documentary could seriously strain Doha’s relations with Manama.
Shouting In The Dark: Al Jazeera Bahrain Documentary Shows The Bloody Fight For Democracy
5 August 2011
On February 16, 2011 thousands of demonstrators hit the streets of Bahrain to protest against the ruling Khalifa family. In the wake of protests in Tunisia and the revolution in Egypt, many felt that Bahrain, too, was ready for reform. On February 21st, a quarter of the Bahraini population came out on the streets and gathered in the Pearl-roundabout.
Yet what followed was a brutal government crackdown on a peaceful civilian movement, that resulted in massive killings and arrests.
On Wednesday, Al Jazeera aired "Shouting In The Dark," an astonishing account of the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. The film follows the unraveling of the Bahraini revolution from its first days in February 201 and documents the the ruthless handling of the uprising by government, military and police.
Filmed by an undercover film crew, "Shouting In The Dark" gives a rare insight into an uprising that was hidden for the world, banned from the camera's, unaccessible to foreign press. The cameras catch protesters being teargassed, beaten and shot. After the February 16-demonstrations, men are lying on the street, some unconscious, others bleeding. An order from the Ministry of health forbade doctors and ambulances access to the scene.
Yet according to Al Jazeera, the crackdown took place as much through the media as on the streets. The network found that during the Saudi invasion, the government disabled cell-phones in anticipation of the army clearing the roundabout. The film narrates how national television launched a campaign to "name and punish prominent Bahraini's." A presenter called a national football star on television and shamed him on tv.
Facebook, too, became a site to name and shame anti-government protesters. Pages such as "Together to unmask the Shi'a trators" asked Bahrainis to disclose the names and workplace of those who participated in the protests, "and let the government take care of the rest."
"State agencies appeared to have used these sites to solicit evidence from the public," Al Jazeera says.
As time passed, the repression gained in brutality. Doctors who spoke out on what they had seen were jailed and tried, accused of fabricating injuries. Prisoners were killed without trial. In April, the Bahraini government started a campaign to destroy Shi'a mosques. A journalist who went to a local police station to report his home had been raided was tortured to death, Al Jazeera reports.
Watch "Shouting In The Dark" Here: http://youtu.be/xaTKDMYOBOU
The Telegraph: Facebook 'used to hunt down Bahrain dissidents'
A new documentary suggests that Bahraini loyalists used social networks to trace anti-government protestors during the recent period of social unrest in the country.
By Suzi Dixon and agencies 04 Aug 2011
In a stark contrast to the way in which social media played a pivotal role during the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in rallying support among anti-government protesters, a documentary called Shouting in the Dark - to be screened on Al Jazeera English this evening - claims that forces loyal to the Bahraini government used social media to find a 20-year-old anti-government protestor, identified as Ayat Al Qurmezi.
Visitors were told "write the traitor's name and work place" and, according to the film, masked commandos then arrested her and took her to prison. According to reports, Ms Al Qurmezi’s mother said: "This is the first time something like this has happened. Young girls taken from their homes, arrested and we don’t know where they are." The film also alleges that many Bahraini protesters are now wary of using social networking sites due to fears that the government may be monitoring their activities.
They say activity in other uprisings leaves them frightened of using Facebook or Twitter.
The 50-minute special was produced by an Al Jazeera journalist who spent three months undercover in the country.
Paul Eedle, director of programmes at Al Jazeera English said: "This is a remarkable film which tells for the first time the full story of Bahrain's crushing of democracy protests. Our reporter took great risks to continue filming for several weeks after Bahraini authorities expelled international journalists. World attention may now have moved on, but Al Jazeera has stayed with this story."
Al Jazeera English "Shouting in the Dark" is available to view online on youtube.com/watch?v=xaTKDMYOBOU
Ebrahim Sharif’s account of his arrest, torture, and a visit by the National Institute of Human Rights
2 August 2011
The following three articles were written by Ebrahim Sharif (originally in Arabic, translated by his family) from inside Grain Prison, concerning his arrest, torture, and the visit of the National Institute of Human Rights.
The Arrest of Ebrahim Sharif
By Ebrahim Sharif
The arrest took place around 1:45 AM on the morning of Thursday, March 17th, 2011 when the doorbell rang. I went outside with my wife and found a group of masked investigators in addition to armed and masked policemen. They were accompanied by a National Security officer who was unarmed and dressed in civilian clothing. The officer asked me to open the front gate of the garden, and I asked him if he had an arrest warrant. He answered by saying no arrest warrant is required in the case of “National Security”. I opened the door and was arrested and placed in a civilian car where I was handcuffed and blindfolded. My house was not searched. Three people witnessed my arrest: My wife, Farida Ghulam, my neighbour, Mohammed Al Zeera, and his wife, Aisha Ghuloom. The car arrived at a building where I was taken to a room for a medical check up, after which some pictures of me were taken. I was blindfolded during the entire process except during the photographic session.
Next, I was taken out of the building, where my blindfolds were suddenly removed and I found myself surrounded by many masked men that pushed me around and cursed at me with swears such as “Your mother’s pussy”, “bastard”, and other degrading swear words. I was then blindfolded again and put into a van with other people, including Mr. Hassan Mushaima, who I recognized when I heard the security men call his name as they placed him into the van.
We later arrived to “Grein” prison at around 5 AM and were escorted out of the van. We stood in an area blindfolded as authorities and wardens directed threats and profanity at us. I heard them also curse at Mr. Hassan Mushaima, saying phrases such as “To hell with you and your 12 imams”. Afterwards, we were taken to one of the rooms where we were stripped from our clothes and then asked to wear the clothes again after removing our watches, belts, shoes, and eyeglasses. I was then taken to a cell. The treatment was poor and rough the entire time, with no shortage of insults, curses, threats and light beatings.
I was put in building No. (4) along with five other prisoners. Sheikh Saeed Al-Nouri was put in cell number (1). Dr. Abdul Jalil Singace was put in cell number (2), Ibrahim Sharif in cell number (3), Sheikh Abdul Hadi Almukhaidher in cell number (4) and Alhurr Youssef Alsumaikh in cell number (5).
After less than an hour I was taken blindfolded to an office where an officer told me that he had met me previously, in the nineties in the State of Kuwait, and asked me if I knew where I was. I told him I do not know, he said, “You are in a place outside Bahrain,” and asked me to cooperate with him and place my hands in the King’s hands and give up my earlier positions. I told him, “My hands are in the king’s hands, but in my own way which is the way of reform,” and I added that the conversation with him could not be sustained without talking face to face by removing my blindfold so that I could explain my point of view and exchange opinions. We did not reach a result and I was taken back to the cell.
By Ebrahim Sharif
That same evening of the arrest the torture sessions began… at first, cold water was poured on my bed, mattress, pillows, blanket, and myself while the air conditioning was running. The room was cold and sleep was impossible especially with all the water the mattress, pillows, and blankets had absorbed. Afterwards, a group of around 5-6 masked men barged into the room and asked me to stand in a corner where they took shifts slapping, boxing, and kicking me, in addition to cursing me. They asked me to repeat after them praises for the King and especially the Prime Minister. The same torture cycle continued for a week where they’d torture and hit me twice or three times daily as well as pour water on my mattress, blanket and myself. And since the cells were all close to one another, I was able to hear the screams of other detainees and the orders and profanity of the wardens.
No tools were used for torture except on 3 or 4 occasions, where a hose was used. The hose beatings were not used to extract specific confessions, but were used as a form of punishment and revenge, as well as to prepare the detainee for the interrogation process that did not start until 4 to 5 days after the arrest.
Initially, I was asked to write all I knew about the February 14th movement and my role in it. After two days, I was investigated by an investigator while I was blindfolded. The torture was continuous for almost two months and continued until a little before the court hearings, while the profanity and cursing continued until the month of June.
On the 13th day of my arrest, the Military Prosecution wanted to investigate me and record my sayings without the presence of a lawyer, so I refused. I later got a lawyer and submitted my sayings and told the prosecution that I was beaten the day before and asked for judiciary protection. I was reassured that beatings are not allowed and they will make sure that I will not be beaten or cursed at. However, the next day I was beaten twice as a result of my complaint, once in the morning from one of the military employees, and once in the evening by two masked men who I presume were from the National Guard. I was threatened to be beaten more severely than I was that day if I complained again. Additionally, the torture included standing for several hours with my hands stretched in the air.
On the 52nd day of the arrest we were notified of a trial for us that was to begin the next day. Before midnight, a lieutenant from the army came to us and presented a case file for case 124 of the year 2011, where I was listed as the fifth defendant accused of toppling the regime and calling for a republic. It’s important to note that we were not allowed to meet our lawyers until the day of the court hearing and despite my repetitive demands, we were only able to meet the lawyers for 15 minutes after each hearing and could not receive any copies of the case files. We also were not given any pens or papers to contribute to our defense.
The Quick Visit of the National Institute for Human Rights
By Ebrahim Sharif
Date of visit: Thursday, July 14th at 12 in the afternoon. Place: Building (1) in Grein prison where the 14 defendants of the alleged overthrowing of the regime by force case were held at. A committee of the National Institute for Human Rights came to visit. The committee was made up of 4 individuals: Issa Al Khayat, president of the association, Ahmed Al Farhan, the Secretary General, Rabab Al Arrayedh and Ali Al Aradi. The newspapers disclosed the news of the visit without any specifics a few days after the visit took place. The committee was accompanied by military officers from the military prosecution, amongst them was the Military Prosecutor, Yousif Flaifel, and the Prison Director, Basil Seyadi.
12 of the detainees were praying when the committee arrived, but the committee came across two of the detainees in the hallway. One of them was Ebrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society (better known as WAAD). The members of the committee asked Ebrahim Sharif about the general atmosphere in the jail and he responded that treatment was better lately (but only lately), and that the prisoners have faced all kinds of torture, ill-treatment, and profanity for the past three months (since the arrest of March 17th). Then Sharif asked them furiously about the committee’s whereabouts in the past few months and why they have only visited now after the torture and ill-treatment had stopped. He asked them their position on what happened. The committee members showed signs of nervousness when one member replied that the society has been monitoring the situation and has issued statements and is in the process of sending a report to the King. The committee then left the building quickly after they took some photos which included the prisoners praying together without asking the prisoners for their permission. One member also asked Mr. Sharif who was in charge of the prison in the past few months and Mr. Sharif replied that he believed that it was the National Security and also the Military Intelligence. The committee only asked a few questions with the presence of a military staff from the defense forces and did not respect the privacy that the professional standards expect of a committee investigating into the treatment of prisoners and prisons.
We noticed that a few weeks prior to the visit, there was a considerable and gradual improvement in the conditions of the prison. Firstly, solitary confinement was gradually ended by placing two detainees in one cell and then opening the cells to one another all day. We were allowed to leave to an outside area for two hours and eat meals from the cafeteria where we could watch the television. Also, the visitation time for family lasted longer starting from the 12th of July and we were given daily newspapers (except for Al Wasat newspaper). Additionally, pictures of the political leaders were removed from the cells (they were initially placed after a month of our arrest to humiliate the prisoners and make them repeat praises to the leadership or face harsh beatings and punishment). We also all got new air conditioning units. All of these improvements were an indication of future predicted visits by international or local investigation committees.
Al Jazeera: Bahraini politician's wife tells of fear
02 Aug 2011
Amal Matar tells Al Jazeera that arbitrary arrests have made people scared of testifying before investigating panels.
The government of Bahrain insists human rights experts are being given unrestricted access to investigate allegations of abuse during protests earlier this year.
However, hundreds of protestors remain in prison as stories circulate of torture and arbitrary arrests.
Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford spoke to Amal Matar, the wife of Matar Ibrahim Matar, a jailed opposition politician.
Irish Medical Times: Human rights concerns make the teaching of ethics impossible
3 August 2011
Letter to Dr David Smith, Associate Professor of Health Care Ethics, Department of General Practice, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Thank you for your recent email about next year’s teaching on the MSc course in Healthcare Ethics and Law. I am afraid that I must join the ranks of those who are expressing their disapproval of the College’s links with the Bahraini regime.
I remember writing many years ago in the Irish Medical Times that the RCSI was getting into bed with very unpleasant company following the forging of initial links with Bahrain. Gallingly, at that time, the IMT (under ownership and editorship wholly different from the current management) disassociated itself from my article, asserting (wrongly) that Bahrain was a democratic country. I stood firmly by my position at that time and did not subscribe to the paper’s quasi-apology.
The Bahraini regime did briefly pull its socks up at the very beginning of the last decade and, among other apparently positive steps, released most political prisoners (I remarked on this positive development at the time in a further IMT article, conceding that some of my earlier criticisms no longer stood). However, the Emir and the ruling elite soon reverted to their old ways, notwithstanding occasional positive noises on human rights and sporadic releases of small numbers of political prisoners (who are invariably replaced by new batches of detainees).
Not only is the recent government orchestrated violence, harassment and repression reprehensible, it has further disquieting undertones of targeted oppression and suppression of Shi’ite Muslims. Foreign journalists and human rights observers are being expelled or being denied visas, reducing the chances of accurate reportage. As of last week, 14 arrested clinicians (including nine doctors) still languished in jail. All of the arrested doctors appear to still be facing charges relating to nothing more than the provision of medical care to protesters. Allegations of torture during detention have been made by the detained clinicians.
Recently, teachers have also been jailed for going on strike and peacefully protesting against the government.
On June 29, Reuters reported that Bahrain University now requires its students either to sign a loyalty pledge to the government or to give up their right to higher education. I hope that no such pledge is being compelled from RCSI-Medical University of Bahrain students.
For the College to maintain its links with the regime and to ostensibly play down the Bahraini state’s continuing and serious mistreatment of doctors during the ongoing popular dissent is most regrettable. The College’s public statements on the matter were, in my view, too little, too late, self-serving and inadequate.
I think therefore that it would be impossible for me to teach — of all things — ethics and law in the College at the present time and I must therefore decline the offer to contribute to next year’s MSc.
Dr Simon Mills, Barrister at Law, Law Library, Four Courts, Dublin 7.
Human rights concerns make the teaching of ethics impossible
JAMA: Human Rights Report Details Violence Against Health Care Workers in Bahrain
By M. J. Friedrich
3 August 2011
When antigovernment protesters marched in February and March of this year on the streets of Manama, the capital of Bahrain, peacefully calling for political and economic reforms, a brutal response by the country's security services followed.
The majority of the injured and dead were brought to Salmaniya Hospital in Manama. Rather than being a safe haven for the wounded, however, this facility, the largest modern medical facility in the country, was declared by the government to be a stronghold of opposition protesters. Security forces occupied the building. According to human rights organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), patients were beaten and abused. Physicians, nurses, and other health care workers who treated the civilian protesters were systematically abducted, detained, and interrogated, and many now are facing trial for allegedly using the hospital as a base to try to overthrow the royal government.
Several human rights organizations such as PHR and Doctors Without Borders have reported abuses against patients and health care workers.
Richard Sollom, MA, MPH, deputy director at PHR and forensic pathologist Nizam Peerwain, MD, chief medical examiner, Tarrant County, Texas, carried out medical evaluations of torture survivors and spoke with people who witnessed physician abductions. They described their findings in a report released by PHR in April, Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients ( https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/bahrain-22April_4-45pm.pdf). The report also documents the use of medical transport for military purposes, the destruction of medical facilities and medical records, and the obstruction of medical care and treatment.
When reports about the injured protesters hit the international media, Sollom said, the Bahraini government put its own spin on the information, claiming that physicians were instigating political unrest, fomenting violence, turning the hospital into a political headquarters, and depriving thousands of people of treatment.
Many of the physicians targeted are the country's leading medical specialists, physicians with 20 to 30 years of experience and impeccable medical credentials, said Sollom. “It strains credulity to believe that these physicians would suddenly, out of the blue, start deliberately harming patients rather than helping them, as Bahrain's government has alleged,” he said.
At press time, dozens of physicians, nurses, and paramedics who were arrested for treating protesters were on trial before a military court. The government's use of a military trial for these cases calls into question whether the rights of the accused can be adequately protected. Families of the defendants have reported to PHR and other human rights organizations that the defendants have been tortured and forced to sign false confessions in detention.
Sollom noted that he and other human rights observers speculate that the Bahraini government has systematically targeted physicians and other health care professionals because these caregivers, who treated protesters taken to the hospital, have firsthand evidence of the excessive force used by the government security forces. “This is one of the most egregious sets of violations of medical neutrality and breaches of international law that I’ve seen personally and we as an organization have seen in decades,” said Sollom. Medical neutrality refers to the ethical duty of medical professionals to care for and treat those in need without regard to race, religion, or political affiliation and to have a neutral and safe space provided by the state to carry out their work.
It is important for those in the medical community in the United States and other countries to fully appreciate what is happening in Bahrain and to speak out against the violation of medical principles, said Susanna Sirkin, MEd, deputy director at PHR. Imagine reporting for work in the midst of a crisis, she said, trying to deal with large numbers of injured people pouring into your hospital, only to be charged with outrageous allegations, denied access to lawyers, or whisked away from your family and kept in prison for months to face trial and possibly a life sentence.
The response from the international health care community has been quite powerful, with many nations and health care associations calling for Bahrain to respect medical neutrality and either to throw out the charges against the physicians and nurses on trial or, at the very least, to ensure a fair trial.
These Bahraini health care professionals are relying on the international medical response to save their lives, said Sirkin.
The World Medical Association (WMA) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) issued a joint statement in June calling on Bahraini authorities to ensure fair trials for health care workers. Mukesh Haikerwal, AO, professor in the School of Medicine at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, and chair of the council of the WMA, said the WMA is asking all its member associations to issue similar condemnations of this treatment, not as a political statement but in support of the human rights of health care professionals.
“In a civilized society, health care professionals have a very important role in the healing and recovery of a nation in trouble,” said Haikerwal. “While personally I don't think these men and women ever should have come to trial in the first place, we need to stand back and call for a fair and open trial,” he said. “The neutrality and independence of these professionals should be respected. This could happen anywhere, to any of our compatriots doing humanitarian work, and they must be protected.”
Haikerwal said that at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May, Bahrain's Acting Minister of Health, Fatima Al-Beloushi, EdD, EdM, MA, gave a spirited defense of the regime. “She basically denied that there were any abuses, a patently false assertion,” he said.
David Benton, CEO of the ICN, met with Al-Beloushi at the assembly and said that she told him that the Bahraini government was surprised and concerned about the level of international interest in the situation. International pressure may be having some effect, he said, given that Bahrain has allowed a few international observers to attend the trials.
“Until recently Bahrain has been one of the peaceful countries in the region, a gateway of sorts to the area and one visited regularly by tourists,” said Benton. Continued scrutiny could affect the economy, providing more leverage to address the situation, he said.
In May, Bahrain's King Hamad lifted the 2-month state of emergency. But while a number of physicians have been released and some of the missing have reappeared, this does not mean that Bahrain has been responsive to all the requests, appeals, and demands of the international community, said PHR's Sirkin.
The US government has exerted some pressure on its long-term ally, which is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. In early June, President Obama met with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who, while not in charge, is considered a progressive member of the royal family who is in favor of a national dialogue to resolve the crisis in his country.
The American Medical Association recently provided a sample letter for US physicians to use to write to Bahraini officials and urge for the fair treatment of the health care professionals detained in Bahrain ( http://tinyurl.com/69v45yh).
PHR's Sollom noted that his organization is in touch with contacts in Bahrain who report that medical professionals are still being targeted. PHR continues to name people who have been targeted because the appearance of their names in the media provides them some protection. A list of names can be found at the PHR Web site.
Sollom returned from Libya in June and is preparing a report on violations of medical neutrality there as well as war crimes in general. He pointed out that although in Bahrain, there's been a systematic attack on health professionals as individuals, in Libya attacks are focusing on hospitals and medical transport, but not on individual health care workers.
“But there are indiscriminate attacks on civilians that are war crimes, and we’ve documented allegations of rape in Libya, torture, mass disappearances, and detention, all of which will be coming out in our report sometime in late July, I hope,” said Sollom.
AFP: Bahrain says raided MSF centre was illegal
5 August 2011 DUBAI — Bahraini authorities said Thursday police had raided a medical centre operated by the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week because it was "unlicensed."
MSF issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the July 28 "armed raid," saying police had confiscated medical equipment and detained a volunteer working as a translator and driver. But the health ministry said on Thursday it was "disappointed by the serious allegations" made by MSF, insisting the organisation was "operating an unlicensed medical centre."
"As MSF was aware, a licence was required to provide health services in Bahrain in the current normal circumstances. The existence of this centre was not known to the relevant Bahraini authorities," the statement said.
It also said the volunteer, Saeed Mahdi, was arrested and charged with "providing health services without a licence and providing false information to the police and the public prosecutor."
Mahdi had called emergency services after the centre failed to provide sufficient treatment for a patient who was seriously injured, but he initially reported the incident as a bystander to hide the fact the wounded were treated by the unlicensed centre, the ministry said.
"While the government of Bahrain routinely welcomes international humanitarian organisations, Bahrain cannot allow any such organisation or individuals involved with such an organisation to breach Bahraini law," it said.
MSF said the patient was provided with first aid by a doctor at the centre, charging the raid constituted a "breach of the sanctity of an office maintained by a neutral medical humanitarian organisation," and claimed it has been open about its operations in the Gulf kingdom.
"Despite only assisting MSF and a patient by calling an ambulance, Saeed Mahdi remains detained. Repeated requests by MSF, his family, and his lawyer to have access to him have been denied," the organisation said.
But the ministry responded by saying Mahdi has not been denied access to his family which it said visited him on Wednesday. MSF said that since February, when month-long Shiite-led protests broke out, the organisation treated some 200 injured and ill patients who feared being arrested if they sought care at government facilities.
"MSF has been transparent about its work and its intentions with the authorities in the country, including the Ministries of Health and Interior," said Jerome Oberreit, MSF director of operations in Brussels.