The government of Bahrain’s increasingly brutal crackdown on protesters has even turned local hospitals into dangerous places, according to a new report from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) – or Doctors Without Borders, the medical humanitarian aid organization.
With health facilities and hospitals in the kingdom deluged with wounded protesters since protests commenced in mid-February, the health care system has become overwhelmed by the influx. Even worse, as protestors have used hospitals as a “venue for demonstrations,” military forces have subsequently occupied this [facility] and even targeted patients and medical workers for reprisals.
The crisis situation has “undermined the ability of health facilities to provide impartial medical care,” MSF stated.
MSF described the kingdom’s largest medical center, Salmaniya Hospital, as an occupied hospital, prompting many wounded people to refuse treatment at the facility out of fear for their safety.
MSF reported that injured people in Salmaniya informed them that they were beaten by security forces, while other patients have been arrested when it was revealed their wounds resulted from participation in protests.
“Wounds, especially those inflicted by distinctive police and military gunfire, are used to identify people for arrest, and the denial of medical care is being used by Bahraini authorities to deter people from protesting,” said Latifa Ayada, MSF medical coordinator.
“Health facilities are used as bait to identify and arrest those who dare seek treatment.”
Indeed, the Bahraini military took over Salmaniya and “established checkpoints with tanks and masked military personnel all around its perimeter.”
One of the patients that MSF interviewed said he was in central Manama during the demonstrations on March 13 when the military began shooting rubber bullets and tear gas. He was shot in the head at close range with a rubber bullet. He passed out and was admitted into, Salmaniya Hospital for surgery.
However, during his last two days in the hospital, the military took over.
“They came and I was beaten and assaulted every day,” he said. “They were beating me directly on the wound on my head. The doctor discharged me, said I can’t do more, and the police arrested me. They took me to the police station where I had to be standing for two hours. I couldn’t manage. When I fell down, they started to beat me and assaulted me again.”
Al Jazeera has also confirmed that doctors and nurses have also been beaten by security officers in the hospital.
“The action by the military to declare the hospital a legitimate military target, and the use of the health system as a tool by the security apparatus, completely ignores and undermines the fact that all patients have a right to treatment in a safe environment, and that all medical staff have a fundamental duty to administer treatment without discrimination,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director.
In response, the Bahraini government has denied that its troops attacked patients in the hospital and insisted they were dispatched there simply to maintain order.
Bahrain remains under a state of emergency and it appears that the Khalifa dynasty which rules the kingdom will not offer any concessions to the protesters. Bahrain has a majority Shia Muslim population (who form the bulk of the protesters), but it is ruled by a Sunni elite minority.
Joe Stork of the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the BBC: Bahrain is now a state where the police are acting with complete impunity. There is no accountability, not even an effort to cover up what is going on.”