When demonstrations broke out in Bahrian urging political reform, first the government’ s security forces went after protesters. Then they went after the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who treated the injured protesters.
Now they’re going after the health professionals who are speaking out against the security forces’ actions.
Even to long-time observers of Middle East human rights issues, the attacks on health professionals to prevent them from treating injured patients is surprising, a sign of the extent to which the governments are willing to respond to the Arab Spring by going after even the most fundamental of rights.
Amnesty International has documented that 47 Bahrain health professionals, all of them Shi’a, have been detained and are likely to face trial before a military court. Amnesty International believes the health professionals face vague, politically motivated charges and that many of the detainees are being punished for their role during the protests in February and March 2011 when they treated injured protesters and spoke out against the government crackdown. The assault and detention of Bahrain health professionals is being repeated too often throughout this region as governments react to the Arab Spring.
The Bahrain government has limited information on the case, and the names of the detainees have not been made public. However, Amnesty is aware of the names of more than two dozen doctors who have been detained for several weeks and may be part of those charged.
The prisoners have been denied access to family members and have had limited meetings with attorneys. They face vague charges, ranging from “embezzlement of public funds” to incitement of hatred toward the government. Our opinion is that these vague charges are politically motivated, and the prospect of trial before military courts violate general international legal standards.
But most disturbing is that at least several of these health professionals were arrested for doing their job, for doing the thing that they pledged to do as health professionals: caring for the injured.
The charges are just the latest salvo against health professionals in Bahrain. In February, Amnesty International documented several cases of health professionals being physically attacked by security forces in Manama on Feb. 17. One doctor told Amnesty International researchers that after being punched by security forces, one guard told him, “If your blood spoils my chair, I will beat you to death.”
The right to medical care is a fundamental human right. Every government has the responsibility to ensure doctors can care for the injured without interference or fear of reprisal. The Bahrain government has abrogated that responsibility. Amnesty International is joining the calls of Bahrain human rights activists that the government stop this practice and act to uphold its most basic of obligations.