Surgeon jailed in Bahrain for treating protesters is released

Dr Ali al-Ekri worked in Dublin, and was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty

Paediatric surgeon Ali Al-Ekri  greets family members on his release from  prison in Manama, Bahrain, after five years.    He strongly criticised the military’s excessive use of force against protesters in 2011. Photograph: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Paediatric surgeon Ali Al-Ekri greets family members on his release from prison in Manama, Bahrain, after five years. He strongly criticised the military’s excessive use of force against protesters in 2011. Photograph: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

 

A paediatric surgeon who spent two years at Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin has been released from a Bahraini prison after five years.

Dr Ali al-Ekri was arrested by security services at Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital Manama in 2011 while operating on a child.

According to Amnesty International, Dr al-Ekri was arrested for treating protesters during anti-government demonstrations in 2011 and for criticising excessive force used by the military.

His incarceration became the focus of a prolonged international campaign within both the human rights and medical communities.

Prof Damian McCormack, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Temple Street who has been heavily involved in his former colleague’s campaign, described Dr al-Ekri as “unbroken” by alleged torture and as a “very significant and heroic individual”.

Medical neutrality

“He was jailed because of his defence of medical neutrality principles,” said Prof McCormack. “He and 30 other doctors and nurses were abducted, disappeared for two days and then discovered to be in Jaw prison in Bahrain. Ali sustained four months of day and night torture, according to witnesses that I have spoken to.”

Prof McCormick has raised Dr al-Ekri’s case at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on several occasions and led a 2011 protest in Dublin.

Dr al-Ekri completed two years’ training in Dublin in the mid- to late-1990s before returning to his native Bahrain to continue practising as a surgeon.

Last February, 172 medical professionals, including many from Ireland as well as the Irish Nursing and Midwives Union (INMO) and the Irish Institute for Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery (IITOS), signed a document calling for his release on the fifth anniversary of his arrest.

Prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International had adopted Dr al-Ekri as a prisoner of conscience.

In an open letter to the King of Bahrain, it said it believed the real reason for Dr al-Ekri’s arrest was “his vocal denunciation of the excessive force to the international media used by the armed forces against peaceful protesters”.

Samah Hadid, deputy director of campaigns at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut, told The Irish Times Dr al-Ekri’s release was long overdue.

“There was no evidence to indicate he used or advocated violence, and it is shocking that the Bahraini authorities allowed him to be deprived of his liberty for so long,” she said.

“He should not have spent even a single minute behind bars.”