Violations of Medical Neutrality in Bahrain
September 9, 2014
During the crisis of 2011, a violent crackdown from government forces attacked the one and only main governmental hospital on the island on the 16th of March. A group of Bahrain medics (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, nursing assistants, cleaners, cooks, etc.) made their way to Salmaniya Medical Complex – Bahrain’s only public hospital – as volunteers to save lives and treat the injured protesters. What we witnessed was horrifying: evidence of the use of live ammunition, bodies battered by tear gas canisters fired at close range, and protesters blinded by the use of bird shot. In the months that closely followed nearly fifty people were killed as a direct result of the crackdown on protesters, a number which has risen to over 180 in the years since 2011.
The government responded to our humanitarian action and based on our ethical duties to save lives; with outrage. At the time medics went live on TV exposing the government of Bahrain’s atrocities, and requesting to stop these atrocities against the people of Bahrain. Medics were clearly identified and were attacked and detained by security forces, while Salmaniya Medical Complex came under the occupation of government forces. To justify their action, state-controlled media reported that healthcare professionals were refusing to treat injured security forces; a claim that remains baseless. In other words, the Minister of Interior used all its power and facilitated a campaign of hatred and sectarianism against the medics through the controlled media in Bahrain.
August of 2011, fifty-two of those medics were sentenced by a special military court to prison terms ranging from one month to fifteen years. I myself was sentenced to 15 years for 12 charges, including attempting to overthrow the regime, spreading false information, and participating in an illegal public gathering. After considerable condemnation from the international community, these convictions were reviewed by a civilian court. The convictions of nine medics were ultimately upheld, while nine of them, including myself, were acquitted. In March 2013, an additional 21 medics were acquitted, but the convictions of more then a dozen medics still stand.
The Bahrain government has violated the concept of medical neutrality, which is the principle of non-interference with medical services in times of conflict. The principle of medical neutrality is quite simple: warring factions must protect civilians. Medical professionals must provide care to the sick and wounded, regardless of affiliation. Medical facilities, transport, and personnel must be permitted to tend to the wounded without interference. Clearly, the Government of Bahrain did not respect the rules of medical neutrality during the uprising of 2011.
For most, it is unthinkable that a medic would be punished for treating victims of government oppression and bearing witness to those crimes. However, this is a reality too many healthcare professionals face today. That is why I call upon the Government of Bahrain, and governments throughout the world, to release prisoners of conscience and respect the tenets of medical neutrality, for I cannot truly be free until they are free.
At the present time we have four medics in prison:
Dr. Ali AL-Ekeri- Orthopedic consultant sentenced to 5 years in prison due to be released October 2017
Mr. Ebrahim Al-Demastani- Occupational Nurse & Executive secretary of the Bahrain Nursing Society sentenced to 3 yrs in prison due to be released March 2015
Dr. Saeed Al-Samahig- Eye consultant sentenced to one year in 2011. He was released and again imprisoned for freedom of expression, due to be released October 2015
Sayed Saeed Taher Al-Alawi – Nursing assistant, sentenced to 15 yrs. in prison
Our request is the following:
Free all prisoners of conscience
Free our medics
Free our unionists
Free our human rights defenders
Free our political prisoners
Free our kids, students, and reinstate them in schools
Stop the militarization and security measures of hospitals and health centers in Bahrain and allow the protesters to be treated without harassment and detention. Employ the 500 newly graduated nurses into work (This is the first time in history to hear of unemployed nurses) where there is a severe shortage in the world for nurses
Re-instate medics and people of Bahrain into their positions in order to decrease the unemployment
Stop the stripping of Bahraini people from their nationalities
Stop the harassment of civil societies and let the societies set their own bylaws and guidelines
Implement BICI report
Detain the people responsible for the mass torture and death in Bahrain
Convict the torturers and the killers of the 180 martyrs in Bahrain
What can the United Nations do:
A visit from the high commissioner representative to Bahrain again to set up an office in Bahrain to monitor and evaluate the situation
Request the visit of Special Reporter on torture
Request the visit of the international Red Cross to prisons
Assign Special Human Right Council Reporter to Bahrain
Implement UPR 2012 recommendations and BICI recommendations
Allow Human Rights organizations to visit Bahrain
Mandate a special session for Bahrain
Release prisoners of conscience
Adopt Medical Neutrality bylaws to protect medics all over the world
This is a summary of what Bahrain people have been through and what is still going on:
Detention and torture of medics, teachers, sportsmen, journalists, teenagers, children, women etc.
Discrimination and sectarian hatred and uncalled attacks on the medics and unionists by the Ministers of the country and others through the local media in the country to enrich and themselves and feed into segregation and hate among the people of Bahrain
Sectarian acts against Shia (suspending and sacking governmental and nongovernmental employees)
Harassment of civil societies
Militarization of the only public hospital in the kingdom of Bahrain
Detention of children and not allowing them to continue their education in prison
Sentencing kids, youth, men under the terrorist law to 10-15-20 yrs of life in prison
Late last month, human rights activist and prominent critic of the Bahraini government, Maryam al-Khawaja, was arrested by state authorities while attempting to visit the country from Denmark: here.
The human rights situation in Bahrain and current imprisonment of two Danish citizens, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Maryam al-Khawaja, forces human rights activist groups, such as Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, to attempt to persuade Scandinavian politicians to show strength against the Bahraini government. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently on hunger strike, making the situation especially urgent. Both Rajab and Alwadei fear that the hunger strike may lead to his death, which would be the worst outcome for all parts: here.
Bahraini human rights activist Asma Darwish spoke to Clarion Project about human rights in Bahrain and what can be done to help: here.