Irish government whitewashing Bahrain human rights violations?


This video from the USA is called CNN – Bahrain security forces torture doctors, medics and patients.

From the Irish Medical Times:

Freedoms at the heart of medical education

February 18, 2015

Prof Eoin O’Brien is critical of the recent Medical Council report on RCSI-Bahrain following a recent accreditation visit, suggesting that it does Ireland an international disservice.

Education without freedom of speech is an oxymoron that I believe has just been upheld by the Irish Medical Council (IMC) and the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, on behalf of the Irish people.

With more than two million people supporting freedom of speech in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, and supportive demonstrations throughout this country, it is timely to ask how authorities acting on behalf of the Irish public can be, in my view, so cavalier in granting what amounts to official approval of an oppressive regime.

And let’s be in no doubt but that Bahrain is a most oppressive regime, ranking 163rd out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index (Ireland ranks 16th), as a consequence of which it is off-limits to most human rights groups. In this small island about one million people are governed by a minority Sunni monarchy, which, with the economic backing of Saudi Arabia, oppresses the Shia majority who are denied the most basic of human rights.

Let us remind ourselves that what started as a peaceful protest for basic human rights in the Arab Spring of 2011 ended with more than 35 people killed and some 70 medical professionals, including 47 doctors, being arrested, with more than 150 medical workers suspended or dismissed from their jobs, and that Irish-trained surgeons and doctors Ali Al-Ekri, Bassim Dhaif, Ghassan Dhaif and his wife Zahraa Al-Sammak were among the tortured. Dr Al-Ekri remains incarcerated in a prison.

Freedom of speech

The question is this: can university education be provided in an environment that forbids freedom of speech and imprisons those who chose to exercise this fundamental democratic right? The President of the Irish Medical Council, Prof Freddie Wood, who until recently was a member of the Council of RCSI and Chairman of its Finance Committee, is, I would argue, of the opinion that freedom of expression is a prerequisite of medical education.

In a recent lecture, Prof Wood used a quote from Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end the day we start to remain silent about the things that matter.” The President went on to illustrate the righteous adherence of the IMC to such a principle: “All the international research shows that doctors who have issues at medical school are likely to continue with bad practices throughout their professional lives. If we can work to standardise the training experience for all doctors so that it is consistently high, we can make sure a reference for good practice is there throughout a doctor’s career.” Likewise, the National University of Ireland (NUI) (which awards degrees in Bahrain) is emphatic in emphasising the importance of freedom of speech in university education.

Dr Maurice Manning, the Chancellor of NUI, chaired a committee in 2013 that drafted a guiding document entitled Human Rights Principles and Code of Conduct for the National University of Ireland and its Member Institutions.

It should be noted that the RCSI, as a member institute, should be subject to the principles enumerated in this document, among which are: “The National University of Ireland and its member institutions have a special responsibility to ensure that… the human rights of their students, staff and associates are fully respected, regardless of the country where they are located. This includes but is not limited to freedoms that are necessary for the good functioning of a university, such as freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination.”

It goes on to emphasise that the NUI and its member institutions must ensure that none of their activities, including partnerships they undertake with institutions in different countries, are seen as providing support for the violation of human rights.

How, one has to ask, can these Irish institutions on the one hand emphasis such laudable principles about the educational environment of medical students, and, on the other, countenance granting accreditation to RCSI-Bahrain and its associated hospitals, where torture and imprisonment of medical staff, not to say anything about suppression of freedom of speech, has been openly documented and repeatedly emphasised by medical and legal authorities?

Educators in Bahrain have also had difficulty reconciling the principles of education with the repression of basic human rights. The former President of RCSI-Bahrain, Prof Tom Collins, resigned his position because by remaining in office effectively amounted to complicity with suppressive policies of the Bahraini authorities — a resultant compromising of the very essence of higher education.

The ‘rape’ of Bahrain

Dr Mike Diboll, a former Academic Head of Continuing Professional Development at Bahrain Teachers College, University of Bahrain, and a faculty member of the University of Bahrain, who “witnessed the toxic effects of institutionalised sectarianism, the suppression of academic freedom and the violation of civil and human rights at the University of Bahrain”, has stated that: “The rape of Bahrain Polytechnic provides yet more evidence — as if more were needed — as to why no respectable international higher education institution, professional body, or accreditation agency should have anything whatsoever to do with Bahrain until fundamental social and political change has happened there.”

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the recent announcement by the Medical Council to grant accreditation to RCSI-Bahrain has appalled many doctors, who see grave implications that extend far beyond the shores of the islands of Bahrain and Ireland.

IMC Report

The IMC Report on Accreditation Inspection of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland-Bahrain Medical School, which took place on October 13 and 14, 2014, makes, in my view, disturbing reading, not so much for the recommendations it makes, but for the facts it chooses to omit in reaching its conclusions. I am not going to concern myself with the make-up of the visiting team, but rather concentrate on their failure to make any meaningful reference to human rights and the freedom of expression — issues that cannot be ignored in the context of approving a third-level institution that purports to educate doctors to practise in multicultural environments.

The only mention of human rights in the 40-page document (apart from four documents listed as ‘Background Reading’) is reference to a review document from RCSI-Bahrain that apparently “commits RCSI-B to expressing its declared ethos, including commitment to dignity and freedom for all, though the content and process of its teaching”.

The report goes on: “A stand-alone module on human rights has been introduced, with assessment explicitly linked to student progress.”

It could be argued that the report reflects an unsuitable position taken towards the institute under inspection, rather than expressing its findings in a dispassionate and factual manner. For example, from the outset the “noble purpose” of RCSI is acknowledged, whereby it enhances “human health through endeavour, innovation and collaboration in education, research and service”.

The report repeatedly “commends” RCSI-Bahrain, examples being for the sports facilities available on campus and on the range of clubs and societies available to students, the “Careers Office, which provides guidance, support and advice” and the “calibre of the administrative staff met on the accreditation inspection”.

These are important considerations in any university where fundamental existential conditions, such as academic freedom, meritocratic decision-making, freedom of association and freedom of expression are assumed, which is not necessarily the case in Bahrain.

The report deems the clinical facilities to be acceptable, not by a rigorous assessment of the hospitals, interviewing past pupils, patients and independent reports, but instead by relying on the ability of current students to speak out and exercise their freedom of speech, which has hitherto been so assiduously denied them.

There is then the time given to the IMC visit — two working days to visit and interview personnel at the RCSI-Bahrain Medical School, the King Hamad University Hospital, and the Bahrain Defence Forces Hospital, and to assess the clinical facilities.

The report suggests an important contradiction, which needs to be reconciled, namely that while it was disappointing that the Team had been unable “to meet with a greater number of students, they found that students were aware of the purpose of the meeting and had reasonable opportunity to opt-in”. Why did so few students attend, then, if they were aware of the meeting?

The final conclusion of this flawed report is that: “The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Bahrain’s six-year Medical Programme should be approved for a period of five years under the terms of Section 88(2)(a)(i)(I) of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007.”

This recommendation is based on the fact that RCSI-Bahrain provided “an appropriate, comprehensive and pedagogically-sound education programme, which is carefully designed to meet defined educational outcomes and is based on the well established programme at the parent institution in Dublin”.

Does this imply that the visiting team from Ireland believed that the same democratic principles that pertain in Dublin also operate in the educational environment in Bahrain?

This is not too surprising, of course, seeing that it would appear they did not interview or visit any of the people involved in upholding human rights in that country.

Rather, the IMC team has chosen to concentrate on issues of technical competence rather than the relevance of ethical principles in decision making — a dangerous course as the Irish people well know, having had to pay for this dichotomy in the failure of banking regulation in this country.

Human rights

So what is the state of human rights in Bahrain today? Two examples will suffice. First, the IMC visit took place just after the women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer had been arrested and detained for tweeting criticism of the IMC-approved King Hamad University Hospital; she is now considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Second, my friend Nabeel Rajab, who is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East division’s advisory committee, is presently facing six months in prison — a sentence he is appealing — for issuing a tweet that offended the Bahraini authorities, which has warned that anyone who “offends by any method of expression the National Assembly or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies” will be sentenced to jail.

Allow me to speculate. Were the IMC delegation, who were selected for proven abilities and experience, aware of all this background, did they choose to ignore it, were they denied enquiry into the educational environment, did they in fact probe the issue, or did they see it as outside their remit — or none of the above? Only the IMC can say which, if any, of these explanations is correct.

Whatever the answer, as things stand at present, the IMC and the Minister of Education and Skills have done nothing to address the abuse of human rights in Bahrain, and have allowed it to continue by sanctioning an Irish educational institution in that island.

Perhaps, more importantly, they may be jeopardising the reputation of Irish higher education both at home and abroad in terms of its pursuit for and profession of truth.

Ireland has a proud tradition internationally in medicine by virtue of medical missionary work, its contributions to scientific medicine and the reputation for clinical excellence acquired over many years by dedicated doctors and nurses working at home and abroad.

The Minister has a responsibility not to see this reputation squandered. She has a further responsibility, which is that she must be assured that the IMC is acting in accord with the requirements of the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME), which the IMC is mandated to support. These standards stress that the locations for clinical tuition should be safe, and that academic freedom must be upheld so that there is “appropriate freedom of expression [and] freedom of inquiry” for both staff and students.

If the Minister upholds the decision of the IMC, which I believe conflicts with human rights standards in Ireland, then this issue may well be open to challenge.

While we in the US ate chocolates and celebrated love, Bahrain commemorated another occasion. This year, Feb. 14 marks the fourth anniversary of the most recent revolution. Unfortunately, the repression continues, and this Valentine’s Day is marked by more forceful responses to continuing protests, complete with tear gas, sound bombs and police violence against demonstrators: here.

Bahrain initiates criminal investigation into online content of opposition party: here.

Valentine’s Day teddy bears against dictatorship in Bahrain


Teddy bears starting to appear at barricades before #Bahrain Feb 14 anniversary

From GlobalVoices:

Teddy Bears Face Off with Police as Bahrain Marks its Fourth Anniversary of Anti-Regime Protests

Posted 14 February 2015 17:05 GMT

Written by Amira Al Hussaini

For the past four years, Bahrainis have been marking Valentine’s Day with massive protests, which are faced with a brutal clampdown by the regime. This year is no different, except that protesters, in keeping with the spirit of Valentine’s, took with them stuffed teddy bears to face off with the riot police.

On February 14, 2011, Bahrainis joined the bandwagon of protesters across the Arab world and staged anti-regime protests, which ushered a new era of widespread human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests of thousands of Bahrainis and the killing of protesters and bystanders, including women and children.

This year protesters marked the anniversary with a three-day strike, in which businesses in villages and protest areas shut down.

According to Bahrain Mirror, an opposition online publication in Arabic, the teddy bear has become a “political icon” used by the protesters for “political satire.”

Translation:

The village of Diraz, west of Manama, was the first village to see the appearance of the teddy bear with the start of the strike, announced by the revolutionary forces.

Copycat teddy bears soon popped up across villages in Bahrain, and were placed at barricades put up by the protesters to protect themselves from police attacks.

Teddy bear

Bahraini human rights activist detained, family claim risk of torture. Hussain Jawad is being held by Bahraini police officers for reasons unknown according to family members: here.

Free Bahraini human rights activist


This video says about itself:

‘Night raids, torture, sham trials a daily reality in Bahrain’ – human rights activist

21 October 2013

In an Arab world swept away by revolutions and wars, few states have remained intact. And at what cost? Bahrain has seen protests, arrests and crackdowns on the opposition. Does stability necessarily mean political oppression in the Middle East? Why is Bahrain’s trouble off international media’s radar? We talk to human rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja, daughter of Bahrain’s renowned dissident, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who is now in jail.

From the site of the government of Norway:

Norway calls for release of human rights defender in Bahrain

News story | Published: 10.02.2015

‘The human rights situation in Bahrain has deteriorated steadily since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. The Norwegian authorities call for the release of the Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab,’ said State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bård Glad Pedersen.

Mr Rajab, who met the political leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September 2014, has been imprisoned several times following accusations of having publicly insulted the Bahraini authorities on social media and having participated in and encouraged unauthorised demonstrations. Following a visit to Europe to draw attention to the human rights situation in Bahrain, Mr Rajab returned to Bahrain on 1 October 2014. He was summoned for interrogation just a day after his return, accused of having insulted a public institution on social media. On 20 January, Mr Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison for his ‘crime’. The sentence has been appealed, and the appeal is due to be heard by the court on 11 February.

‘The sentence against Nabeel Rajab is another example of how difficult the situation is for human rights defenders in Bahrain. A large number of human rights activists have been imprisoned with extremely harsh sentences. Norway calls for Nabeel Rajab to be released as quickly as possible,’ said Mr Pedersen.

A Bahraini human rights activist stripped of his citizenship and rendered stateless, has told the House of Lords in Westminster that Bahrain is using the revocation of nationalities as a weapon against the opposition: here.

Bahrain monarchy violates human rights, how about Britain?


This video is called Bahrain police shooting at independent cameraman filming and reporting.

From Middle East Monitor:

Bahraini exiles test Britain’s policy on statelessness

Alastair Sloan

Monday, 09 February 2015 12:26

The Al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain recently stripped over 70 exiled activists of their citizenship, eight of whom live in Britain. In 2012, they did something similar, stripping 31 human rights and pro-democracy activists of Bahraini citizenship, 11 of them living in the UK. These new exiles are testing Britain’s policy on statelessness.

Bahrain’s move is particularly ironic because much of its state security apparatus is made up of mercenary enforcers and interrogators from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Jordan. All have been given Bahraini citizenship, housing and salaries by the regime in return for their role in the torture, humiliation and shooting of peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

The Al-Khalifas use citizenship as a weapon. It is offered to those who take part in callous oppression, but remove it from citizens who call for democracy.

This latest move was choreographed carefully to coincide with the confiscation of passports from preachers and fighters associated with ISIS. Thus the authorities have conflated the two movements in a clumsy smear.

The British charity Asylum Aid has been conducting wide-ranging research into the negative impacts of statelessness, interviewing stateless persons in Britain who have been destitute for months. They have been detained by the UK immigration authorities despite evidence that they have no prospect of returning to their home country, or that they have been separated for years from their families overseas. Some have been forced to sleep on the streets. Many have seen their accommodation and support cancelled repeatedly and then reinstated. In the absence of a dedicated and accessible procedure to identify people who are stateless, they have been left in a legal limbo for years.

In a rare moment of progressive policy making, Britain has taken steps recently to address the problem of statelessness. Across the European Union, approximately 600,000 quasi-citizens are estimated to be stateless. The UK is so far the only EU member to implement substantive measures to assimilate stateless refugees, implementing a specialised asylum procedure from April 2013. Thousands of refugees are currently applying through the official mechanism, with immigration officials deciding each case carefully; it is not a straightforward process.

The British authorities must act to treat the Bahraini exiles stripped of their citizenship on the same basis as other refugees. However, as the repression in Bahrain grows worse, it is becoming increasingly clear that the British government is sticking to its commitment to support the Al-Khalifa regime. As I have reported previously elsewhere, Britain has been accused of harassing, rather than helping, such exiles, often in collusion with the Bahraini government.

In January, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised improvements in Bahrain’s human rights record, shortly before the Gulf state jailed its most prominent human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, for six months. His “crime” was to send an “insulting tweet”. He is currently on bail pending an appeal scheduled for later this week. In July 2014, the Guardian revealed that Hammond had sat next to the Earl of Clanwilliam, a lobbyist for the Bahraini government, at a fundraising dinner for the Conservative Party.

The parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee also lamented the government’s decision not to “bite the bullet” – its own words – by designating Bahrain as a human rights “country of concern” for 2014. “We see little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights,” the committee judged. Civil society organisations described the British government’s reluctance as a whitewash.

The FCO response was short, disdainful and factually inaccurate. “On the human rights front Bahrain is by no means perfect,” it insisted, “but it is a country that is making progress and its leadership has shown a willingness to engage with the human rights challenges that it faces.”

Research by Bahrain Watch, an NGO which has been tracking progress on the Al-Khalifa government’s alleged reforms, shows that if British officials believe Bahrain to be “making progress”, they are wilfully and obstinately ignorant.

Of the 25 recommendations made to improve human rights in Bahrain after the 2011 uprising, 11 have been violated openly, six have seen no action at all, five have had no details about their progress released by the government, and three have been implemented “partially”. Not a single reform is judged to have been implemented in full.

The leader of the main opposition Al-Wefaq Party, Ali Salman, was arrested recently on what are claimed to be trumped-up charges. He was also slapped with a travel ban just as he was about to embark on “a major European tour, meeting officials, think tanks, civil society leaders, academics and media professionals.”

Despite this, Britain announced recently a significant expansion to its military assets in Manama harbour, with plans for a full-scale naval base. The Royal Navy has deployed small minesweepers out of Bahrain for some years, but when larger vessels visit the port the crews sleep on board; there are limited facilities for such ships. With a naval base, British warships will be able to deploy regularly from Bahrain. The expansion of the base will resume a long term British military presence in the area and mark the end of a 40-year Middle East policy by the government. Controversially, the Bahrain government will foot the bill for building the Royal Navy facilities, effectively buying Britain’s silence over its ongoing human rights abuses.

Britain has a patchy record on human rights, but addressing statelessness has been a more positive example of what can be done. In applying this new policy rigorously and fairly, they must include Bahraini exiles, as they would any other refugee.

UN rights experts urge Bahrain to release arrested opposition leader: here.

A newly launched Arab news channel has been suspended in Bahrain after it aired an interview with a Shia opposition leader: here.

Bahraini dictatorship considers human rights activism ‘terrorism’


This video says about itself:

Suspected ISIS leader in Pakistan admits receiving funds via US – report

28 January 2015

A suspected Islamic State operative in Pakistan, Yousaf al Salafi, confesses to recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria, and says he received funds, wired through the U.S.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

We are human rights defenders, but Bahrain says we’re terrorists

Sayed Alwadaei

I am among 72 people stripped of their citizenship under terror laws. My crime? To fight for democracy and human rights in Bahrain

Monday 9 February 2015 10.34 GMT

The barbaric killing of Muadh al-Kasasbeh by Isis will haunt us for a long time to come as an example of the cruelty of today’s Jihadi terrorists. Kasasbeh was burned alive in a cage a month ago, his murder hidden from the world as Jordan demanded his safe return, the truth only coming to light last week when a video of his murder appeared online.

As Jordan mourns its hero, we in Bahrain reflect in fear and disgust: the Bahraini government names human rights defenders, journalists and political activists terrorists, and in doing so they liken us to Kasasbeh’s killers. The prospect of what it means for us is utterly terrifying.

This video says about itself:

Is ISIS A Tool of the Saudi State?

1 October 2014

Ali Al-Ahmed says ISIS is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy in the Middle East.

The Guardian article continues:

At the beginning of the month the ministry of interior published a list of 72 persons whose citizenship was to be revoked. No trial, no appeal, no legal process – if your name is on that list, you are no longer a Bahraini. Recent amendments to the nationality law allow the state to revoke citizenship for those guilty of terrorism. About 50 of the named persons, myself included, are human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, religious scholars – peaceful activists. Most of us are now stateless. Among the reasons given for revoking our citizenship: “defaming the image of the regime, inciting against the regime and spreading false news to hinder the rules of the constitution” and “defaming brotherly countries”.

Mixed in with our names were 20 real terrorists, people known to have gone to fight for Isis in Iraq and Syria, including notorious Bahraini jihadist preacher Turki Albinali. The message has never been clearer: the government of Bahrain views us, who advocate for democracy, human rights and change in Bahrain, as equals to the Jihadi-terrorists of Isis. We, who call for parliamentary reform and an end to torture, who call for the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings to be brought to justice, and who report on these events to the world – we are put on par with the barbaric murderers of Muadh al-Kasasbeh.

Next week will be the anniversary of the uprising which shook Bahrain. When we took to the streets on 14 February 2011 and called for democratic reform, we never imagined the repression that would follow: a brutal crackdown on protests and the establishment of martial law. Many died, shot by police, or beaten to death. Many more were imprisoned and sentenced on trumped-up charges. Doctors were arrested and tortured for treating protesters. One journalist, Karim al-Fakhrawi, died in police custody. One wonders how the world would have reacted if that murder was filmed and spread online, like the murders of Isis.

We could not have imagined that 2015 would be worse, and yet it is. Though we haven’t seen the same extreme violence that characterised martial law four years ago, today the repressive measures have become institutional. Anti-terrorism laws are now used against protesters and are used systematically to keep people off the streets. Police continue to treat protesters with excessive force. Red lines have been crossed with the detention of major political opposition figures, who were never touched even during the dark days of martial law.

This video says about itself:

Bahrain police attack young women 23-9-2011.

The Guardian article continues:

Bahrain’s government has not only succeeded in defining the work of human rights defenders, journalists and political activists as terrorism under the law, it has done so with little opposition from its allies – particularly the UK. It was bizarre when, on 20 January, foreign secretary Philip Hammond praised Bahrain’s human rights record and called it “a country which is travelling in the right direction”. On the same day, only hours later, a court convened to hear Nabeel Rajab’s case and sentenced the human rights defender to six months’ imprisonment.

The reprisals against human rights defenders, political activists and journalists I’ve described are not nearly a complete list. Yet they are the major feature of Bahrain in 2015. When the government of Bahrain equates the work of journalists and human rights defenders to the most brutal murder of innocents, I must ask: is this what Philip Hammond considers the “right direction”?

Hundreds of people protested in London on Saturday against the UK’s support for Bahrain’s repressive government: here.