Scores disappear as Bahrain's uprising continues

Mon, Mar 28, 2011, 01:00

The Royal College of Surgeons sends fact-finding team after four senior consultants are detained by the state, writes FINIAN CUNNINGHAMin Manama

THE ROYAL College of Surgeons Ireland sent a fact-finding team to Bahrain at the weekend amid claims of attacks by state forces on hospitals and medical staff, including members of the RCSI.

At least four Bahraini senior consultants are known to have been detained by the state. The circumstances of custody are unknown, but relatives of the medics have said they fear for their lives.

Senior consultant Ali al-Ekri was arrested on March 17th while performing a surgical procedure at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama, where hundreds of injured had been admitted following attacks on pro-democracy protesters.

The military takeover of the hospital and the detention of medics and patients have been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a “shocking violation of international law”.

Ekri’s wife said: “We are very afraid for his life. We do not know where Ali is being held, nor under what conditions.” Other medics detained include Ghassan Dhaif and Basem Dhaif. The three are believed to be members of the RCSI, having been trained in Dublin.

Ekri lived in Dublin with his family from 2000 to 2002 during his training as a paediatric surgeon. One of his three children, Hassan, was born in the city’s Rotunda hospital.

Since the popular uprising began on the Persian Gulf island on February 14th, the country’s largest public hospital at Salmaniya has served prominently as a treatment centre for injured protesters. Senior staff defied ministerial orders to close the hospital during the first week of repression, when seven people were killed by state forces and hundreds were injured.

It is believed staff at the hospital are now being subjected to reprisals for their alleged “disloyalty” to the regime.

The unlawful detention of the medics points to claims of a wider campaign of “disappearance” of opposition figures and civilians by state forces.

Seven leading political figures have been detained in unknown circumstances, including Hassan Mushaima of the Haq Movement, Ebrahim al-Sharif, leader of the left-wing National Democratic Action Society, and dissident academic and writer Abduljalil al- Singace.

In addition to 65 cases of known detentions, the whereabouts of more than 100 persons remain unknown, according to the leading opposition party, al-Wefaq.

Most of those missing have disappeared since Gulf armed forces joined the Bahraini military onslaught on March 16th against the popular uprising, under which protesters had been demanding an elected government to replace the US-backed autocratic regime of King Hamad al-Khalifa.

Many of the missing are believed to be injured patients arrested by members of the military police when state forces commandeered hospitals.

Other reports say people have been detained by state forces after being stopped at checkpoints, or during raids by plainclothes police on outlying towns and villages.

A spokeswoman for US-based Human Rights Watch said: “We are deeply alarmed by the number of disappeared. And we are even more concerned by the number of people who had been reported missing and who are now being found dead.

“There seems to be a blatant campaign to silence people by fear,” she added.

In recent days, at least four people have been reported dead after they went missing during the military crackdown. One of them was named as Abdulrazul al-Hujiri (38), from Boori village. He worked as a cleaner at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama and was taken into custody on March 19th, according to witnesses. His body was found the next day near the remote oil fields of Awaali – he had been badly beaten, and his neck was broken.

The father of another man buried last Thursday, Hani Abdulaziz (32), from Belad al- Qadeem, west of Manama, described how he saw his badly injured son being taken away by military police while he was being treated at the International Hospital on March 19th.

Abdulaziz is believed to have been tortured after he was snatched by a police squad earlier that day. He was taken to a nearby construction site and shot in the legs and arms, witnesses said.

The bare concrete room, seen by this reporter, where he was said to have been shot four times at close range bore evidence of massive blood loss. His father said subsequent inquiries with the police failed to produce any information on his son’s whereabouts.

His body was released by the state on Thursday – the same day he was buried. Abdulaziz’s family has rejected the official death certificate claiming he was killed in a car crash.