Middle East
Rights groups slam Bahraini crackdown
Bahrain denies claims by international NGOs that it has been targeting medical facilities and torturing activists.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2011 18:30
Rights groups say that both sides have violated the 'medical neutrality' of the Salmaniya hospital in Manama [Reuters]

Rights organisations are calling on the Bahraini government to halt what they term human rights violations, and to stop a crackdown on hospitals where doctors and patients suspected of being sympathetic to pro-democracy protests have been arrested.

In separate statements on Friday, Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights slammed the government's attacks on medical staff.

London-based Amnesty urged the international community to step in to stop the crackdown, or risk being accused of having "double standards".

"North American and European governments, so vocal recently in espousing the cause of human rights in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, need also to speak out loudly about what is going on in Bahrain," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"To avoid the charge of double standards, they must be much more robust in pressing the Bahraini authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations."

In a statement on Friday, Huda Nunu, Bahrain's ambassador to the US, denied the allegations.

Nunu said that the kingdom had not targeted or attacked doctors and patients and that the medical establishments in Bahrain were operating normally.

'Cleverly planned'

In a new report, Amnesty accused the Bahraini government of launching "a cleverly planned and orchestrated crackdown using excessive force to suppress protests calling for political change and reform".

Amnesty said that security forces' use of shotguns, rubber bullets and tear gas, as well as live ammunition in some cases, was unjustified.

It said that more than 500 people have been arrested in the last month in the tiny Gulf island country, which has seen a series of protests against the current monarchy-led government since February 14.

At least four detainees have died while in custody under "suspicious circumstances", Amnesty said.

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The group pointed out that many of those arrested are doctors and nurses at the capital Manama's main Salmaniya Medical Complex.

Meanwhile, Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Friday that the Bahraini government had turned hospitals into "places to be feared".

"Wounds are used to identify demonstrators, restricted access to health care is being used to deter people from protesting, and those who dare to seek treatment in health facilities are being arrested," Latifa Ayada, an MSF medical co-ordinator, said.

"Health facilities are used as bait to identify and arrest those who dare seek treatment."

The group said in a statement said during a visit to the Salmaniya hospital it appeared "virtually empty".

It said that injured people had told MSF staff that the military had beaten them, "including on their wounds", while others said patients were being arrested inside health facilities if it became apparent that they were injured during the pro-democracy protests.

'Medical neutrality' violated

MSF said that the use of the hospital as a site for demonstrations against the government, which had prompted an occupation by the Bahraini military to clear them out, had "undermined the ability of health facilities to provide impartial medical care".

Amnesty also accused both sides of violating the hospital's "medical neutrality" during the protests.

"The police, military and intelligence services must stop using the health system as a way to crack down on the protesters," MSF said in a statement.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a US-based rights group, meanwhile, said the government was carrying out "systematic attacks" on medical staff.

"The excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, patients in hospitals and medical personnel that PHR's
investigators documented is extremely troubling and is cause for an immediate international investigation," the group said in a statement on Friday.

Iraq protests

Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqi Shias rallied in Baghdad on Saturday to demand the immediate withdrawal of Saudi troops from Bahrain.

Shias in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran have expressed anger over the movement of forces from Sunni Arab states into Bahrain to help its Sunni royal family squash pro-democracy rallies by majority Shias.

Protesters in central Baghdad chanted "no to al-Saud".

Some carried banners which read "Saudi occupation should end" and "Why is there Arab silence towards the massacres committed in Bahrain?".

"We advise [our] brothers in Saudi Arabia to immediately withdraw from Bahrain," Hadi al-Amiri, Iraq's transportation minister and head of the Badr Organisation, which arranged the protest, said in an address to demonstrators.

Badr is the former armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a main faction in Iraq's Shias alliance, which also includes that of Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister.

Maliki has criticised the intervention by Gulf states in Bahrain and said it could spark a sectarian war in the region.

Amri criticised Bahraini authorities for suppressing its Shia population and asked the Arab League and human rights groups to undertake fact-finding missions in the kingdom.

"Barbarian acts against people asking for freedom should stop and the Saudi occupation is not tolerated anymore," Hadi al-Ghurabi, a Shia cleric, said.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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