Irish delegation travels to Bahrain


A GROUP of Irish doctors, politicians and human rights representatives will travel to Bahrain today to highlight the plight of medics facing trial after they were arrested during pro-democracy protests in the Gulf monarchy earlier this year.

The Bahraini authorities have indicated they are not keen on the visit by the group, which is being led by orthopaedic surgeon Damian McCormack. Officials at the Bahraini embassy in London yesterday reiterated that they would prefer if the visit took place in October, when reconciliation talks, which began earlier this month, will have concluded.

The group, which includes Independent MEP Marian Harkin, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power and former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, last week received a letter of support from Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.

Mr Gilmore has expressed concern over the treatment of the 47 doctors and nurses facing trial on charges of participating in efforts to topple the government.

Three of the detained medics, Ali Al Ekr, Basim Dhaif and Ghassan Dhaif, trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. 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.

Other members of the delegation include Andrew Anderson, deputy director of Dublin-based human rights organisation Front Line, and Prof Eoin O’Brien, a former president of the Irish Heart Foundation. Last month he resigned as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland over its failure to condemn the detention and alleged torture of the medics.

Ms Harkin will be officially representing her European Parliament political group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. Prof McCormack has been asked to make representations on behalf of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, which had originally planned to send a representative.

The delegation has requested meetings with senior Bahraini officials, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. “We don’t have as yet any confirmation that we will be able to meet officials in Bahrain,” Prof McCormack said last night.

Mr Anderson, of Front Line, said the primary purpose of the trip was to visit the families of those in custody to offer support and to gather information about alleged mistreatment of the detainees.

Front Line says it regards the medics as “human rights defenders persecuted for their work defending the right to health”.

Some in Bahrain have criticised the Irish delegation’s visit as “interference”. They point out that an independent commission, made up of international judges and lawyers, has already been established to investigate alleged human rights abuses.