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Bahrain jails doctors amid rights concerns

29th September 2011

Authorities in Bahrain have imprisoned 20 doctors to jail terms ranging from 5-15 years for their role in recent anti-government protests, state media reported on Thursday.

bahrainreport

Charges levied against the doctors included stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons and occupying a hospital.

In a recent report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch also called on the government to end attacks on patients injured during recent anti-government protests.

It said police should immediately investigate reports that the authorities violated the rights of medical personnel, and those of patients who exercised their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

The government should pursue those responsible and ensure that universal access to medical treatment was available to all.

The report, entitled "Targets of Retribution: Attacks against Medics, Injured Protesters, and Health Facilities," describes a series of attacks on healthcare providers starting in mid-February 2011, when the Arab world saw a wave of  protests, some of which toppled governments.

The human rights abuses cited in the report include the denial of medical access to protesters injured by security forces and the siege of hospitals and health centres.

It also contains accounts of detentions, ill-treatment, torture, and prosecution of patients with protest-related injuries, and the medics who treated them.

According to Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, medical personnel who criticised the government crackdown on the protests were singled out and jailed.

"The attacks on medics and wounded protesters have been part of an official policy of retribution against Bahrainis who supported pro-democracy protests," Stork said in a statement as the report was published.

He said that more than 1,600 Bahrainis are currently facing solitary confinement and ill-treatment in detention and unfair trials before a special military court.

The largely peaceful protests in Bahrain began in February and continued in spite of a violent military crackdown in mid-March.

On March 16, security forces surrounded and occupied the Salmaniya Medical Complex.

Paramedics, doctors and nurses who were attempting to treat wounded protesters and bystanders began to come under violent attack from the authorities, HRW said.

One of the witnesses was 44-year-old doctor Sadiq Alekry, who had volunteered to help on Lulu [Pearl] Square ahead of an expected attack by security forces.

Four protesters died that night. Alekry himself described being handcuffed, held at gunpoint and punched, kicked and beaten with sticks by riot police.

The report also quotes testimony from paramedics whose ambulances were attacked by soldiers and riot police and prevented from picking up critically injured protesters.

In Sitra, soldiers and police laid siege to a health center in a Shi'ite area of the country after King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa declared a state of emergency.

They also occupied Salmaniya, taking command of operations there and stopping people from coming and going freely and interfering with medical treatment.

There were also reports that they had fired teargas, rubber bullets, and pellet guns at other health facilities.

Overall, their actions prevented some of the injured from getting the urgent care they needed.

The sixth floor of Salmaniya was used as a detention facility. Here, patients were held incommunicado, beaten, tortured and otherwise mistreated.

In the case of one patient, a 22-year-old man with a large number of pellets in his pelvic area and internal organ damage was taken away in a wheelchair in great pain by police after a blood transfusion request alerted the authorities to his identity.

His current whereabouts and condition remain unknown.


 

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