Irish contingent bound for Bahrain requests meetings on jailed medics

Thu, Jul 7, 2011, 01:00

MEMBERS OF an Irish delegation due to travel to Bahrain next week to highlight the plight of medics arrested during pro-democracy protests earlier this year have requested meetings with senior Bahraini officials, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The group, which includes Independent MEP Marian Harkin, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power, and former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, is being led by orthopaedic surgeon Prof Damian McCormack, who works at Temple Street children’s hospital in Dublin.

The 47 doctors and nurses on trial after they treated injured protesters have attracted considerable attention within Ireland’s medical community as three of the detained medics, Dr Ali Al Ekr, Dr Basim Dhaif and Dr Ghassan Dhaif, trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Prof McCormack, who worked with Dr Basim Dhaif and Dr Ali Al Ekr in Ireland, is one of several doctors here who have criticised the RCSI for not doing more to press the authorities in Bahrain to release the medics from custody.

The Irish delegation, which also includes Andrew Anderson, deputy director of Dublin-based human rights organisation Front Line, is due to arrive in Bahrain on July 12th for a three-day visit. Meetings with officials from Bahrain’s ministry of human rights and social development, which includes the health ministry, have been requested.

The delegation is also seeking a meeting with Bahrain’s military prosecutor.

Last week, a lawyer for one of the doctors on trial said the proceedings, which had been taking place at a special tribunal with military prosecutors, have now been moved to civilian courts. The health professionals are charged with participating in efforts to topple Bahrain’s monarchy. Prof McCormack, who is liaising with the Bahraini embassy in London regarding the trip, stressed the humanitarian nature of the visit. “We don’t want to get involved in politics. This is a human rights issue that goes beyond politics.”

He said visiting the families of the detained medics was a priority. “We want to show solidarity and express our sympathy and concern. That is very important.”

Prof McCormack said releasing the medics would act as a gesture of good will as Bahrain enters a period of national dialogue aimed at easing tensions after the unrest earlier this year.

Front Line director Mary Lawlor, who recently visited Bahrain to raise the issue with the authorities, is collecting signatures for an open letter to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa calling for the medics to be freed. “These doctors are currently being subjected to an unfair trial . . . For more than two months after their arrest, they were denied access to their families or lawyers. There is credible evidence of torture. We regard them as human rights defenders persecuted for their work defending the right to health,” she said.

Ms Harkin raised the matter in a meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton yesterday. She said she welcomed Baroness Ashton’s statement about the “disgraceful treatment of doctors and medics in Bahrain”, adding that “the total disregard for medical neutrality is staggering”.