As democratic protests broke out in Bahrain in the spring, medical personnel found themselves at the center of events in the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama. Tending to the wounded that arrived at the hospital they found themselves under siege as government security forces took over the hospital. Disregarding the principle of medical neutrality, the government then charged 24 doctors and 23 nurses with attempting to topple the al-Khalifa monarchy. On Thursday, 20 doctors were found guilt by a military court.
The full facts pertaining to the sentences have been released by Bahrain’s 24x7 News
. It reports the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) says 13 doctors have received sentences of 15 years, two of 10 years, and five of five years. The sentences were issued by Military Prosecutor Yussef Rashid Flaifel. The doctors were found guilty of abusing the hospital for political purposes; forcefully taking over the hospital; possession of weapons; and fabricating stories to disturb public security. An IAA spokesman said
“Nobody is above the law.”
The doctors may appeal their sentences in the higher Court of Cessation.
The Islamic Republic News Agency
reports that Amnesty International has called the verdict a “travesty of justice.” Middle East director Philip Luther said
“These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives amid very trying circumstances” adding "The ruling government clearly wants to send a message that anybody perceived as advocating political reforms will be dealt with severely.”
Members of Physicians for Human Rights
visited Bahrain in April and spoke directly with accused doctors. They reported
“systematic attacks include abductions of physicians, some of whom were taken from their homes in the middle of the night, handcuffed and blindfolded, by masked security forces.” They further reported “we gathered evidence about these and other egregious abuses against patients and detainees including torture, beating, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing.”
The official line from the Bahraini administration bears no resemblance to the accounts of events described by the medical personnel. The official line is that the medics took control of the hospital but doctors and patients have stated that Bahraini security forces took control, refused to allow medics to leave, and dragged wounded patients from their beds to prison cells to torture them. The al-Khalifa regime found them guilty of disseminating false information whilst the reality is they did not want the facts about the injured and tortured protestors becoming public knowledge at a time when their main concern was the loss of the Formula One Grand Prix.
The lack of any independent press in Bahrain, coupled with the Gulf state being home to the US Fifth fleet and a convenient ally to America, and the West’s fear of Iranian involvement in the country, left the West remaining largely silent regarding the violent suppression of protests in Bahrain. Repeated calls by human rights groups who drew attention to the plight of medics, journalists and protesters were largely ignored. Reports
of torture and disappearances were unheard as the West turned its attention to bombing Libya to protect civilians. Saudi troops arrived to suppress protests and ensure the al-Khalifa family remained in absolute power.
Bahrain was primarily concerned with maintaining its image of a country which is good to do business in and was relieved to lift the state of emergency on June 1. It even engineered an online loyalty campaign
giving citizens the opportunity to express their love and gratitude for King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
On the surface the Bahrain authorities are desperate to show that Bahrain is safe and free of any dissent. Protests still continue despite the severe punishments meted out to those who are caught. Bahraini authorities have shown they can act in any way they choose as the world will stand by in the face of torture, disappearances and unjust prison sentences for doctors who were simply doing treating the wounded.