September 3, 2011
Plight of Medics in Bahrain
This message details the plight of healthcare professionals in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Presented here is a review of the attack and targeting of medics since the uprising began in February 2011 up to this date. It is important to note that there are 12 medics who are still detained in Bahrain and as of today September 3, 2011 are in their 5th day of hunger strike which they began to protest their continued detention, trial in military court and mistreatment in detention. Their health conditions are rapidly deteriorating and we appeal to the World Health Organization to immediately interfere to save the lives of the medics in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Briefing about Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) events
During the months of February and March, the country witnessed several major disasters. Such events are unprecedented in Bahrain’s history, and the sight of severe injuries rendered the medical staff horrified. On 17th February ‘2011 the first attack on the Pearl Roundabout occurred, ambulances were not allowed to bring injured protestors. Security forces also assaulted medical personnel including physicians and paramedics. The following day, health professionals protested at SMC against the Minister of Health, Faisal Al-Hamar, for his prohibition of the ambulances, and the King resigned him from his position later that month. During these events, the physicians had done their best to save lives and treat the injured. Human rights organization, journalists and reporters including Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors Without Borders, CNN and the Independent, were present at SMC during these events and witnessed how these physicians upheld the Hippocratic Oath they took and provided medical care to all patients, not just protestors.
Mistreatment, kidnapping and torture
The systematic attack on healthcare professionals began after the second crackdown on the Pearl Roundabout on March 16, 2011. 48 medics including doctors, nurses and paramedics, have been arrested and presented to a military court. We do not consider them to be arrests, rather kidnappings and abductions. Some were arrested from their homes after masked men dressed in civilian clothing barged in late at night with no search warrant, handcuffed them in front of their children, and dragged them to an undisclosed locations. Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, a consultant orthopedic surgeon, was arrested in the operating theatre. Others were taken from the hospital without informing their families. The medics were held incommunicado for days after their arrest, and were allowed limited numbers of calls to their families. While in detention the physicians were subject to different forms of torture including: kept blindfolded and handcuffed for days after their arrest, standing for long hours with no sleep, slaps (hard slaps on the ears), beatings (mostly on the head and feet) and electric shocks. The purpose of this torture was to extract false confessions, as it was used extensively even before the interrogation began. The targeting of healthcare workers is not limited to the abduction of these 48 medics, but systematic attacks on healthcare centers. Masked security forces attacked healthcare centers during working hours, taking medical staff to the Criminals Investigation Directorate (CID) in Adliya where they were interrogated, humiliated and physically assaulted for hours and then released.
Media and Public Misleading
The released medical staff that are on trial as well as the detainees are banned from discussing their current status and related issues in the media and have been threatened by the authorities from approaching any kind of local or foreign media. Concurrently, local mass media are given the green light and are encouraged to constantly and unjustly target and attack the medical staff through the government’s TV channels, namely Bahrain TV. Although innocent until proven guilty is the common rule in all democratic societies, the programs’ presenters and their biased guests are labeling the medical staff as “unsafe”, “criminals”, “traitors”, and “saboteurs”. Furthermore, the presenters and their guests have taken upon themselves to charge the medical staff with false accusations, trial them, and sentence them during their programs on these state controlled TV channels. In fact, the President of the Information Affairs Authority Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa and Acting Minister of Health Fatima Al-Balooshi in a press conference held on April 27, 2011 accused the medical personnel of committing heinous crimes even before their trial began and the verdict announced. They are even spreading news that many other so-called “Unsafe Medical Staff” are roaming the government hospitals and health centers and those should be apprehended and interrogated. Local newspapers are also regularly listing the names of the medical staff in subject and are subjecting them to all kinds of defamations and slanders. All this is playing a major role in tarnishing the reputation and morals of the medical staff, grossly inciting a hostile environment against them and their families, and agitating public opinion against them by publicizing misleading information.
The physicians on trial are all reputable physicians, respected by the community. They are well known on a local and a regional scale; many of them have patients from neighboring GCC countries including Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These physicians are now detained, and the acting Minister of Health and Minister of Justice accused them of committing heinous crimes even before they were formally charged and brought to court. When their families met with them, they said they were made to sign false confessions under torture. Their confessions were also videotaped for state television, and if these are broadcasted it will definitely affect their reputation. Their children and families will also have difficulties facing the community, who are already facing pressure at school and at work.
In June 2011 and after the lifting of the State of National Safety, 48 medics were presented to a military tribunal. The charges against them are listed below:
1. The inexcusable refrain from aiding people
2. The embezzlement of public funds.
3. Physical assault on others
4. Assault leading to death
5. The possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition
6. Refraining from carrying out their employment duties, in aims of hindering medical work, consequently endangering people’s health and lives
7. The attempt of forcefully occupying a public building
8. Promotion to bring down and change the regime by illegal means
9. Accused of inciting hatred against the governing regime
10. Promoting sectarian hate
11. Spreading false news and rumors that harm the public interest
12. Participating in unlicensed protests and rallies
The first court session was held on June 6, 2011. The cases were divided into two groups according to their charges, one group were felonies and the other group with misdemeanor. They began with the felonies, there were 20 medics. We were shocked to see that they were not formally dressed, in fact most were either in casual attire or even in their pajamas. They all had their heads shaven, most of them had lost a lot of weight. This is not how consultants most of them have served the Ministry of Health for over 20 years. The male medics were forced to stand in the sun for around 30 minutes before the session began. They were blindfolded and handcuffed, and these were only removed when the session began.
After the session, the medics were allowed to meet with their families and lawyers for 10 minutes. It was the first time the still detained medics were allowed to meet with their loved ones. During this brief meeting, we came to learn that the medics were subject to physical and psychological abuse, and they were coerced into making false confessions. Among the forms of torture were: making them stand for long hours, some of them even for days, without moving and without sleeping; they were beaten with hoses, wooden boards with nails in them; made them eat stool. These forms of torture were used during interrogation in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) in Adliya. However, at the jail it was mainly humiliation and continuous verbal abuse with the occasional beatings, however not as severe and extreme as in CID.
The second court session was held on June 13, 2001. Again, they started with the felonies. The judge cast the charges for each accused individual, and they were allowed to respond with either guilty or not guilty. Dr. Ali Al-Ekri (consultant orthopedic surgeon) and Mrs. Rula Al-Saffar (Head of Nursing Society) responded with not guilty and stated that their confessions were extracted under torture and they had to sign confession papers while blindfolded. The judge stopped both of them, and told them to limit their responses to guilty or not guilty otherwise the court will take strict action against them. Dr. Zahra Al-Sammak (consultant anesthatist) responded with not guilty and made the same statement as the two previous doctors, and the judge ordered her to be escorted out of the hall. Dr. Nada Dhaif (dentist) requested permission to speak to military judge through her attorney, but this was refused.
Note: Stephanie Williams, the Charge d’Affairs attended this court session.
Third hearing (Felonies)
The third hearing session (felonies group only) was held on June 20, 2011. The lawyers were not allowed to meet with the detained medics on trial except right before the court session for a period of time not exceeding 15 minutes. The court session lasted about 6 hours. These are the highlights of the court session:
The lawyers presented the court with a written note challenging the legitimacy of the court. They allowed the female medics on trial to sit, as for the men they brought a limited number of chairs in which they took turns sitting on them. The witnesses of the prosecution were called upon one by one, and each lawyer was allowed to address questions to the witness. Important things to note:
a. The lawyers had to address the questions to the military judge, who then re-formulates the question in the way that he deems suitable, and then allows the witness to answer. At many points, the military court dismissed questions asked by the lawyers or asked the lawyers to refer back to the record of investigations. Notably, the military judge rejected many questions that asked about cases involving live ammunition.
b. The court called upon seven witnesses for the prosecution. Of the witnesses were the main interrogator, who was also responsible for the torture of many of the male physicians on trial, administrators at SMC, and medical staff from SMC including doctors and nurses.
On June 29, 2011 King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa issued a royal decree, referring all cases to civilian courts. However, we were shocked that the military courts were returned and the trial of the 20 medics who are accused with felonies would continue in a military court.
Fourth hearing (felonies)
The fourth court session in the medics’ case (felonies) was held on August 28, 2011. In this court session we were supposed to hear from the witnesses of the defense, however the session was adjourned to September 7, 2011. The lawyers again requested the release of the medics, however this was refused. The medics were allowed 10 minutes to meet with their families.
Medics still in detention
The unlawful arrest and targeting of healthcare professional in Bahrain has received widespread condemnation from prominent human rights organization and governments worldwide including the United States and the European Union. Due to this immense criticism, 36 of the 48 medics on trial were released. However, 12 medics unjustly remain in custody.
In protest of their continued unlawful detention, torture, and trial in military court, the medics who are still in detention began a hunger strike on August 31, 2011 which coincided with the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, in which Muslims all around the world ended a month of fasting. Today, September 3, 2011 is the 5th day of hunger strike. Already 7 of the medics have collapsed and required IV solutions. The hunger strike also includes refusal to take all medication. Many of these medics suffer from serious health conditions, which are rapidly deteriorating. Four of these medics suffer from severe depression and are now not taking their medication. One doctor was forced to stand for two weeks, which resulted in the destruction of the valves in his legs and feet and as a result is at high risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Another doctor has a complete rotator cuff tear and required surgery. Another doctor has diabetes for which he needs to take insulin shots.
The medical staff has always done their job with integrity, adhering to the code of medical ethics, never denying healthcare to anyone based on gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. The accusations that are directed towards medical personnel are completely untrue, and no mind can accept them. Medical personnel have no political agenda, and it is unjust to target them because they treated the protestors. They merely performed their duty and provided unbiased healthcare to the people. We seek the World Health Organization’s help in securing the release of the 12 medics who remain in custody by condemning their unjust detention and pressuring Bahraini authorities to release these prisoners of conscience. We appeal to the World Health Organization to immediately intervene to save the lives of the medics still in detention who are now on hunger strike, and whose health conditions are rapidly deteriorating.
1.The immediate and unconditional release of all 12 still detained medics.
2.Dropping of all charges against them.
3.Absolving medics of all charges against them in state and international media.
4.Returning all medics to their previous positions.