Six Irish-trained medics among 20 jailed in Bahrain

 

BAHRAIN JAILED 20 doctors yesterday, including six associated with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), on charges relating to unrest in the Gulf kingdom earlier this year.

The doctors were sentenced to between five and 15 years on charges of stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons and occupying a hospital.

The verdict was met with outrage by campaigners for the Irish-trained doctors.

RCSI-trained doctors Dr Ali al- Ekri, Dr Bassam Dhaif, and Dr Ghassan Dhaif received 15-year sentences. Dr Zahra al-Sammak, who also trained in Dublin, Dr Fatima Haji, who was a lecturer at the RCSI campus in Bahrain, and Rola al-Saffar, president of the Bahrain nursing society, received five-year sentences for allegedly being involved in the riots.

Prof Damian McCormack, an orthopaedic surgeon who led an Irish fact-finding delegation to Bahrain in July, described the sentencing as an “utterly abhorrent decision” by the Bahraini court.

“It is beyond belief the doctors, nurses and other medical workers could be treated as criminals for providing medical care to the injured,” he said.

Describing the reasons given by the Bahraini authorities as being as transient as “ice sculptures, melting under an Arabian sun” Prof McCormack urged the RCSI to reconsider its relationship with the country.

The institute has a €60 million campus in Bahrain.

Mary Lawlor, director of Front Line Defenders, described the verdicts as “a historic low for respect of the most basic human rights and humanitarian principles.”

The organisation said the sentencing represented a “dark page” in the history of Bahrain.

“The scale of brutality and injustice visited on doctors is unprecedented not only in the region, but internationally,” it said.

The doctors, who denied the charges, were among dozens of medics arrested during protests led by the island’s Shia majority which demanded an end to sectarian discrimination and a greater say in government.

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers quashed the protests in March with the help of troops from Sunni neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 detained – mostly Shias – in the crackdown.

The 20 physicians were also jailed over claims of having forcibly occupied a hospital, spreading lies and false news, withholding treatment, and of having incited hatred of Bahrain’s rulers and calling for their overthrow.

“We were shocked by the verdicts because we were expecting the doctors would be proved innocent of the crime of occupying the Salmaniya medical complex,” said defence lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi. The hearing had lasted no more than 10 minutes, he said.

The doctors say the charges were invented by the authorities to punish medical staff for treating people who took part in anti-government protests.

“Those doctors who have been found guilty were charged with abusing the hospital for political purposes,” said Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a spokesman for Bahrain’s International Affairs Authority.

Last night in a statement the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland said: “The RCSI notes the sentences handed down to healthcare professionals today. We understand and welcome that the doctors have not been detained in advance of the appeal process. “

We also understand the cases will now go into the civilian legal process where the appeal will take its course. We do not believe it to be appropriate to make any further public comment at this time.” – (additional reporting Reuters)