Bahrain and Medics

The Irish Times – Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Treatment of medics in Bahrain

Sir, – I was glad to read the letters (June 25th) from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) and Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), in connection with the doctors who have been arrested in Bahrain. In no other country in the world have we witnessed doctors and nurses persecuted on such a scale as a result of their legitimate humanitarian actions.
I have a few questions with regard to the six visits Prof Kelly of RCSI made to Bahrain, and last week’s fact finding mission to Bahrain undertaken by Dr Donohoe RCPI, which were cited in their letters.

1. Did they request access to visit the doctors and nurses in jail to hear directly from them and if not, why not? 2. Did they make any attempt to meet the wives and families of the doctors who trained in Ireland? 3. Who did they meet to establish the facts? 4. On what basis do they imagine that trials before a military court which contravene international standards can possibly turn out to be “unequivocally fair and just”? Front Line believes that the arrest, detention and subsequent charging of members of the medical profession in Bahrain is related to their humanitarian work during a time of crisis, including providing medical services to patients injured during recent protests.

We have taken up the cases of all the health professionals arrested by the Government of Bahrain, including the Irish trained doctors, Dr Ali Al Ekr, Dr Basim Dhaif and Dr Ghassan Dhaif. These doctors are currently being subjected to an unfair trial before a military court on totally unsubstantiated charges. For more than two months after their arrest, they were denied access to their families or lawyers. There is credible evidence of torture. We regard them as human rights defenders persecuted for their work defending the right to health.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her briefing on June 24th called for “an immediate cessation of trials of civilians in the military court and an immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators who were arrested in the context of the protest movement in February.”
I was in Bahrain two weeks ago where I met government officials, the American, British and French embassies and a number of human rights defenders. We finally got permission to attend a hearing in the military court for our former colleague Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. I was not allowed to give evidence on his behalf. Last Wednesday, June 22nd he was sentenced to life imprisonment simply for his peaceful work for democracy and human rights (World News, June 24th).

I also met with some of the wives of the arrested medical professionals.
They too are doctors. They have been interrogated, and in some cases ill treated. They have been suspended from their jobs. They feel totally abandoned by the RCSI. They have called on health professionals in Ireland and elsewhere to support them in their efforts to have their husbands released with all charges dropped. Front Line is sending an open letter to the King of Bahrain seeking the release of health professionals, and would be glad to hear from anyone interested in signing this letter. – Yours, etc,

Front Line – the International
Foundation for the Protection
of Human Rights Defenders,
Temple Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – While welcoming the letters from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland regarding the treatment of medics in Bahrain, it must be pointed out that these statements have only been made as a direct result of pressure being brought to bear on these institutions by a public campaign that is gathering momentum.

Both statements fall short of directly calling for the immediate release by the authorities of the detained healthcare professionals in Bahrain, and unfortunately, some detainees have already been sentenced to life imprisonment by military courts. – Yours, etc,

Trauma Orthopaedics,
Temple Street Children’s
Dublin 1.

Sir, – When an institution breaks a long-held silence on a sensitive issue, the result is very often dispiritingly bland. That is most emphatically not the case with the breaking of its silence by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland concerning the treatment of medics in Bahrain. Prof Cathal Kelly’s letter on behalf of RCSI is magnificent (June 25th).

In clear and direct language, without a trace of politically correct cliches, it unequivocally upholds the right of doctors and nurses to treat the injured in conflict situations; unequivocally upholds the principle of non-discrimination in the provision of medical care; unequivocally upholds the principle of medical neutrality; and unequivocally upholds the principle of nongovernmental interference with medics in conflict zones. It also provides much needed clarity concerning RCSI’s rationale for proceeding with its recent graduation ceremony in Bahrain throughout the trial period of the detained doctors.

This is a particularly courageous statement given RCSI’s commitment to medical education in Bahrain, which is not a western democracy such as Ireland where so many freedoms are taken for granted. For that reason this statement is also a profoundly moving act of solidarity with those most in need and as such, challenges and inspires us all.

Many years ago Heraclitus wrote: “Character is destiny”. Prof Kelly’s forthright reiteration of the fundamental principles of medical ethics and the Geneva Convention as the foundation upon which medical education in RCSI is based means that its destiny as an august medical school is assured. – Yours, etc,

Páirc Dhún Charúin,
An Charraig Dhubh,
Co Baile Átha Cliath.