08 Apr 11 28 Nov 16

Hospitals used to track down wounded protesters, claims MSF

Irish Times 8 April 2011 DUBAI – Hospitals in Bahrain, where the government has cracked down on protests and imposed martial law, have become places to be feared, where wounds can identify people for arrest, a medical charity said yesterday.

The Gulf state rejected the allegations as unfounded and part of an “orchestrated campaign by the protest movement”.

Bahrain has seen the worst sectarian clashes between its Shia majority and the Sunni-domnated security forces since the 1990s after Shia protesters, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets in February.

At least 13 protesters and four police have been killed. Bahrain’s Sunni-led government has arrested activists, Shia and bloggers, and called in troops from Sunni-ruled neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, to help quell the protests.

Wounds, especially those inflicted by distinctive police and military gunfire, are used to identify people for arrest, and the denial of medical care is being used by Bahraini authorities to deter people from protesting,” said Latifa Ayada, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical co-ordinator. “Health facilities are used as bait to identify and arrest those who dare seek treatment.”

Hospitals in Bahrain “no longer serve the medical needs of the whole population”, MSF said.

Salmaniya, the only public referral hospital in Bahrain, was almost empty when MSF visited it. Security forces occupied it on March 16th, it said. “Injured people admitted to Salmaniya have told MSF how members of the military beat them, including on their wounds,” MSF said.

Other patients have been arrested within health facilities upon discovery that their injuries are related to the protests. The risks of going to hospitals or health centres mean that patients often do not attempt to seek treatment.

But a government statement said: “Prior to action taken by police to secure the hospital, Salmaniya . . . was used as a co-ordination centre by protesters and had been overrun by political and sectarian activity . . . As a result, the action to secure the hospital was both unavoidable and necessary.”

Government officials deny the army entered the hospital. “The action by the military to declare the hospital a legitimate military target, and the use of the health system as a tool by the security apparatus, completely . . . undermines the fact that all patients have a right to treatment in a safe environment,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF director.