Visit to Bahrain to highlight plight of medics criticised


PLANS BY an Irish delegation to visit Bahrain next week to highlight the plight of medics arrested during pro-democracy protests earlier this year have been criticised as “interference” by some in the Gulf monarchy.

It is understood the Bahraini authorities are not keen on the visit by the group, which includes Independent MEP Marian Harkin, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power, and former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, and is being led by orthopaedic surgeon Prof Damian McCormack.

Officials at the Bahraini embassy in London yesterday told the delegation they would prefer if the visit took place in September or October, when peace talks, which began this week, have concluded.

The delegation has requested meetings with senior Bahraini officials, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to raise concerns over dozens of doctors and nurses facing trial on charges of participating in efforts to topple the government. Three of the detained doctors trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Prof McCormack, who worked with two of the doctors 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 from custody.

He said the delegation was determined to travel to Bahrain next week as planned. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore gave Ms Power a letter of support at a meeting on Thursday, during which he reiterated his concerns over the treatment of the medics.

The planned visit has attracted criticism in some quarters in Bahrain, particularly as an independent commission, made up of international judges and lawyers, has been established to investigate alleged human rights abuses.

“A lot of people I know don’t appreciate the Irish delegation coming here. They see it as interference,” says Mohammed Al Muharraqi, a surgeon and lecturer at the RCSI campus in Bahrain, speaking in a personal capacity.

“This is not a black and white issue. There’s a huge grey area that has not been covered in the Irish media.” Last week, a lawyer for one of the doctors on trial said the proceedings, which had been taking place at a special tribunal with military prosecutors, have now been moved to civilian courts.

Dublin-based human rights group Front Line, whose deputy director is travelling with the delegation, says it regards the medics as “human rights defenders”.