Treatment of medics in Bahrain
Sir, – Prof Eoin O’Brien states that the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) is ambiguous in its assessment of events at Salmaniya Medical Complex where the doctors treated the injured pro-democracy demonstrators (Opinion, November 29th). I disagree. There are two unambiguous strands to the findings of the report, one positive, the other negative.
On the positive side, the BICI report stated that no evidence was found to support the most serious charges made against the doctors, thus vindicating what they had always maintained: 1. They did not take over the hospital. 2. They did not use or supply weapons to demonstrators. 3. They did not misappropriate medical supplies. 4. They did not refuse treatment to any injured or sick person on the basis of their religion.
Nevertheless, despite these findings by the BICI Commission, there are serious question-marks about the prospect of the doctors receiving any kind of justice or fair trial in Bahrain. On November 28th, at the second appeal hearing against their convictions, prosecutors for the state presented boxes of weapons to the court that included 168 bullets, four ammunition cartridges, three Molotov cocktails and a host of other weapons which they claimed were confiscated by Bahraini police at Salmaniya Medical Complex.
Lawyers for the doctors protested that the weapons, had they existed, should have been produced to the military court which originally convicted the doctors and they demanded that the court not accept this “evidence” – but the judge refused their request.
Given this kind of “justice” there is no doubt that the negative findings of the BICI report will be grist to the prosecutors’ mill. The report contains two ominous statements that can be used to harm the doctors in their appeal against their convictions which has been postponed, yet again, until January 9th, 2012.
First, it maintained that the accused doctors contravened the Bahrain Medical Society Charter of Medical Ethics because they did not prevent the media from filming inside the emergency section and ground floor of the hospital, thereby violating patient confidentiality – even though it also explicitly recorded that the context within which this happened was one of “chaos” within and outside of Salmaniya hospital during the Arab Spring in Bahrain. There is no acknowledgment of the doctors according priority to patient care, rather than running the media from the hospital.
Second, the report maintained that some of the doctors had political ties with the opposition to the current government and they had, therefore, a political agenda and “moved in and out of their role as political activists and medical personnel.”
I am in total agreement with Prof O’Brien’s conclusion that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland should staunchly support the principle of medical neutrality, publicly and clearly. One way of doing so, without saying a word, would be to send representatives to the appeal hearing of the doctors in Bahrain.
Actions speak louder than words, and that one action would express support for the principle of medical neutrality as well as solidarity for their medical colleagues in their time of trial. – Yours, etc,