College 'concern' at plight of medics

Sat, Jun 25, 2011, 01:00

THE ROYAL College of Surgeons in Ireland has expressed “deep concerns for the rights of detained medical personnel” in Bahrain in its first public statement criticising the actions of the ruling regime in the kingdom.

The college, which has invested €70 million in a medical campus and university in Bahrain, also calls for “dialogue and reconciliation” following civil protests that erupted earlier this year.

At least 29 people died in the protests, which were inspired by the “Arab Spring” demonstrations sweeping Tunisia and Egypt. And in a move condemned by the UN and human rights groups, Bahrain security forces arrested 47 medics – some of whom were trained in Ireland by the college – accusing them of inciting the violence and mistreating patients.

The medics, who are facing military trial in Bahrain, have denied the charges. At least one of the doctors, who was trained in Ireland, has alleged he was tortured in prison to extract confessions.

In a letter published in The Irish Times today, college chief executive Cathal Kelly writes that “punishing doctors or nurses for treating patients, irrespective of their background, is completely unacceptable”.

“Governments should not infringe upon the duties of medical professionals and should not target or punish those who seek to uphold these internationally recognised principles,” he says.

The letter from Prof Kelly follows strong criticism of the college’s public silence on the fate of the medics from fellow medical professionals over several weeks.

Amnesty International has asked the college to use its influence with the authorities in Bahrain to secure the medics’ release.

In his letter Prof Kelly says the college’s approach to date of minimising public statements in Ireland has been guided by what it judged to be most effective in Bahrain. But he says he has met senior government ministers in Bahrain on six occasions since February to discuss the matter.

“The focus of these meetings was to express our deep concerns for the rights of the detained medical personnel,” he writes.

The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland has also written a letter to The Irish Timestoday supporting calls for justice for the doctors in detention in Bahrain.

“Hospitals should be neutral sanctuaries for the care of the ill and the injured and should not be used as political platforms or targets for military activity,” it says.