Bahraini minister pledges to ask king to free medics


BAHRAIN’S HEALTH and human rights minister told an Irish delegation yesterday she would ask the king for the release of the 14 medics in custody – one of whom is reportedly suicidal – after their arrest during pro-democracy protests in the Gulf monarchy earlier this year.

Damian McCormack, the orthopaedic surgeon leading the group, told The Irish Times it had been an “extremely successful trip” despite earlier doubts over getting visas.

“We’ve had very positive meetings with the health minister. We met a lot of families of detainees and some of the released doctors on Wednesday, and heard first-hand accounts of their torture and experiences. We put all of that to the minister today.

“The bottom line is that the health minister has agreed to ask the king for the release of the remaining 14 medics,” said Prof McCormack.

The group, which includes Independent MEP Marian Harkin and former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, told minister Dr Fatima Al Beloushi that one of the detainees was suicidal.

“We have credible stories that one of the detained doctors is suicidal and we’ve pointed out to her [Minister[Ms Al Beloushi] that time is running out. One of the medics could die in detention, which would be a disaster, and I think she realises that.

“So we would be hopeful that she will speak to the king and something positive will come out of this,” said Prof McCormack.

Senator Averil Power spoke of the “very harrowing accounts” they had heard about how the medics were mistreated.

One person told of having to stand handcuffed for days with his back against the wall, while another spoke of how they would only find out what they were charged with on arrival at court.

The Bahraini authorities had indicated they were not keen on the visit by the Irish group, describing it as “interference”.

Officials at the Bahraini embassy in London said on Monday they would prefer if the visit took place in October, when reconciliation talks, which began earlier this month, will have concluded.

Three of the detained doctors, Ali Al Ekr, Basim Dhaif and Ghassan Dhaif, trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Prof McCormack, who worked with Drs Dhaif and Al Ekr in Ireland, is one of several Irish doctors who have criticised the RCSI for not doing more to press the authorities in Bahrain to release the medics.

The Irish group is due to arrive home today.