Government forces in Bahrain have staged a violent crackdown at the Salmaniya Medical Centre in the capital of Manama. The hospital, which had been treating injured protesters, was surrounded by military personnel last week. According to eyewitnesses, over the weekend security forces burst into operating theatres, beat staff and intimidated and arrested doctors.
This letter was written by a doctor working at a major hospital in Manama and sent to a group of friends on Friday. The doctor cannot be identified for fear of retribution from government forces.
Things are not getting better.
The day before yesterday, I decided to risk all and go to the hospital after I heard that some doctors were being allowed in. I drove out of my house to see army tanks, commandos and special forces dotted along our otherwise peaceful roads. I could not take the usual straight road to the hospital as roads were blocked with armed military and riot police wearing masks.
After many checkpoints and much intimidation I got close to the hospital complex. There were tanks at every hospital gate and eventually I reached the only open entrance.
It was so scary, and I couldn’t believe my eyes: all the cars outside the entrance were smashed and left in the middle of the road. The army was destroying public property and blaming the protesters.
Yes, I must confess I was afraid but I put a very blank look on my face and talked myself into not allowing them to fluster me. Armed men knocked on my window with their guns. I was wearing my white coat and had my ID as well as the hospital ID. They checked my car at every stop. They found that I had some extra clothes with me in a bag, which they checked, and they wanted to know if I was on duty.
Finally I got into the hospital. There was only the glass door of the Accident and Emergency ward separating us from the armed masked military men. They had video cameras and were filming everyone that was entering or leaving. Mobile phones and flash drives were checked and if they weren’t happy, they would confiscate the items.
The staff, who had been locked in there for the last three days, looked exhausted and anxious. They were so happy to see me. They thanked me and said my presence lifted their moral.
It was more than eight hours since the military raided the protesters at the Pearl Roundabout but the injured were denied access to the hospital and the bodies of the dead were taken to an unknown destination.
The hospital was crowded with civilians who had fled there for safety. They were filling the corridors and the hospital cafeteria. Some of these were the protesters who had had stands and tents outside the hospital. They were now wanted criminals.
The food was getting scarce in the hospital as no one was allowed in and the supplies could not be replenished. I had a small spoonful of beans and a small pita bread. That night, I had to find a place to sleep amid all the confusion. I am so thankful to the junior doctors who accommodated me in their room.
Early in the morning, three young men from the Ministry of Interior hospital were brought in. Two were shot in the head and neck and the other was shot in the eye.
Shooting in the eye with shotgun pellets, which disperse in the head, is an injury I have observed often lately. If these young men survive we will have many blind young men in Bahrain. They have also been shooting them in the groin, causing scrotal rupture.
One of the injured had a haemodialysis fistula and it turns out that he had chronic renal failure and was on the transplant list.
I left the hospital in the morning the same way that I got in. I saw nurses and doctors humiliated and checked all because they had pledged to look after the sick and injured. One of the military men told me: "We are doing our duty, we are protecting you from the terrorists and the doctors who cover up for them".
I ask, how will the patients including men, women and children who have an acute emergency, in labour, or those in need of dialysis or chemotherapy go?
I still cannot believe how can any human being can allow this to happen. We are surrounded by the armed military and the entire hospital is under siege so that we do not rescue or even treat the injured.
Is this human? They are treating us as terrorists because the majority of doctors and nurses are Shia and because the protesters are also Shia. They do not know anything about basic human morals let alone about medical ethics. There was a crisis with the hospital beds at times of peace and now I wonder how many more people will suffer and die.
I was glad to reach home and my family. It was so touching to hear my children asking, "Did you help the injured, did you save anyone’s life?" I guess children have more ethics than our so-called leader. My children have sacrificed their precious time with me for the injured and sick and our ruler has so much innocent people’s blood on his hands just to stay in power. Well he can stay in power, but he will be ruling over corpses and a humiliated people.
Yesterday the military men got into the hospital operation theatre and arrested an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Ali Ekri. Dr Ali was quite active campaigning against the brutal attack on the protesters while they were asleep at the Pearl Roundabout on 17 February. He was with the demonstrators at the time of attack and from then took it upon himself to get access for medical personnel to reach the injured.
Dr Ali has been taken to an unknown destination and his wife, a consultant family physician, is helpless.
We do not know what will happen next. They destroyed the Pearl Roundabout monument, the place where the protesters camped for more than a month. It was sad to see such a beautiful piece of art destroyed.
And our lame government has brought Saudi army men to kill and terrorise us. It is well known how brutal the Saudi regime is. I ask how can anyone get foreign troops to kill their own people?
I can’t imagine that our very own Sunni brothers, whom we have lived and worked with for many years, are happy that we are being killed. One of my children asked me this morning. "Why do they hate us so much? We love them, if we tell them that, will they stop killing us? Can we stop being Shia?"
I did not know what to say, but I said: "This is our destiny, we cannot change who we are, we have to continue believing that we are one family, things will get better."
I said that but things will never be the same again. It’s very sad to think that my kids will not grow in the Bahrain I grew up in.
Anyone who has lived or visited Bahrain or knew or befriended a Bahraini Shia or Sunni will recall that we are a friendly, cultured and peaceful people. We have been suffering from discrimination, corruption and marginalisation for many years. This is what happened to us when asked for our rights.
Update: Sunday 20 March
Today is Sunday. I heard that over the weekend the military took injured patients from the hospital to an unknown destination. There is still a heavy military presence and the same check points.
More doctors have been arrested:
Dr Mahmood Asgar (Paediatric Surgeon)
Dr Basim Dhaif (Orthopaedic Surgeon)
Dr Nada Dhaif (Dentist)
Dr Ghasan Dhaif (Maxillary Surgeon)
Mr Nabeel Rajab (Head of Human rights office in Bahrain)
The list is growing and we do not know who else.
The hospital is empty and the people are tense and anxious but each puts on a brave face. What more can we do? We have to do our duty to see patients, but even the patients are terrified to come to the hospital. What will happen in the next few hours let alone the next few days is unpredictable.
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