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September 22, 2014

Unjust treatment of Bahraini medics

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Dear Editor,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer criticisms of the recent Irish delegation to Bahrain (‘Bahrain Ministry responds to IMT articles’, Irish Medical Times, September 2, 2011, http://bit.ly/ovvGOP.)

The statement, which I presume came from the Bahraini Embassy in London [Ed: It came directly from the Ministry, through the PR firm Qorvis] is factually incorrect. Our delegation spent a full two days in Bahrain, not one. We entered on visas given to us by its officials, having made it very clear in advance, by letter and by phone, that we wished to meet families of detained medics and government officials.

We came not as tourists but as a delegation with specific intent. They let us in. They then agreed to allow official meetings, as previously documented.

We had ample time to consider all evidence given to us. We had time to meet over 30 doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and medical students and their wives and children and listen to their testimonies. These were not vague suggestions of abuse. These were detailed statements from respected doctors and nurses and paramedics about their own personal abduction and torture, sexual molestation and humiliation at the hands of a brutal regime.

We had time to meet editors of suppressed newspapers and members of human rights organisations; time to meet visiting European ambassadors; time to meet the Minister for Health and Human Rights and the public prosecutor; time to meet the Deputy Foreign Minister and numerous other officials.

We had time to visit Salmaniya medical complex and speak to some of the remaining medical staff; time to see armed militia and armoured tanks within its gates.

We did not have a press conference. We arranged to give a press briefing to a small number of journalists, but our meeting was disrupted.

At time of writing (September 5, 2011), Dr Ali Al-Ekri, Dr Bassim Dhaif and his brother Gassan, and all of the remaining detained medics are entering their second week of hunger strike. Gassan’s 10-year-old son is on hunger strike in support of his father, who is medicated for suicidal intent, but now is refusing medication.

Dr Tublani, a diabetic, and Dr Bassim, who has chronic compartment syndrome and is at risk of clots, have been transferred to the prison clinic. Five others have also been commenced on intravenous fluids. They are weakening and potentially close to death.

The Bahraini regime continues to employ lobbyists like Joe Trippi and PR companies like Qorvis in Washington and Bell Pottinger in London.

A pro-democracy Bahraini station, Lualua TV, based in London, is understood to be actively jammed from Bahrain via a European satellite, while all internal electronic communications in Bahrain are monitored by ‘spy gear’ provided by Western companies.

Since March, more than 1,400 protesters have been detained, 180 civilians have been sentenced in military courts, 32 people have been killed, over 60 journalists have been targeted or ejected and at least 22 opposition websites are censored — in a country which would call itself democratic and peaceful.

I am not a diplomat and have no knowledge of their protocols. I am, however, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon and occasionally have reason to treat children abused and occasionally fatally injured by parents or family members. These children are victims of a crime. They are defenceless, vulnerable, terrified and confused.

I am also familiar with the behaviour of those guilty of the crime. They rarely confess. They sometimes try to convince themselves and all around them that they didn’t do it. They blame others. They create confusion and misdirection. They attempt to obstruct justice. They deconstruct the facts. They have friends and family members and business partners who support them and resent and reject the accusations. But they remain guilty of a crime and the crime does not ‘blow over’.

The crime is not ‘complicated’. The crime cannot be redefined or minimised by laws or decrees.  Child abuse and infanticide is as clear a manifestation of evil as exists on this world and those who deny it are complicit in the crime.

To me, Bahrain is a ‘crime scene’. I’ve been there and I have seen those looks of defencelessness and vulnerability, terror and confusion in the faces of men and women who report being abused and tortured. And I’ve heard familiar excuses and explanations, misdirection and deconstruction.

The King of Bahrain has appointed a commission to investigate the abuses, yet his ministries deny the actions even took place. His business partners resent those who publicise what is going on, and his departments globally monitor and suppress all mention of it.

The latest victim is a boy, aged 14, killed by blunt force trauma to the neck. The weapon: a Brazilian-made tear gas canister (twitpic.com/6e7awy).

The events in Bahrain, and in particular the brutality shown towards heroic medical personnel fulfilling their moral and professional obligations to injured protesters, will be fully investigated by commissions, by historians, by international criminal courts. But I have made my own investigation and have drawn my own conclusions.

I know the victims and I know the perpetrators. The illusion of normality, of civility, of peaceful tranquillity is broken in Bahrain and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can never put that illusion together again.

Prof Damian McCormack FRCS Orth,
The Children’s University Teaching Hospital,
Temple St, Dublin.