Yesterday the Bahraini authorities brought 47 medical staff to trial before a military tribunal, accusing them of trying to overthrow the government during pro-democracy protests in February — although the accused say they were merely doing their jobs by treating injured protesters.
After the hearing, the health workers — many of whom have been in detention for months — were allowed 10 minutes with relatives and friends, during which they told harrowing stories of being beaten in detention with hoses and wooden boards with nails, and made to eat faeces. As well, they said they had been deprived of sleep and made to stand for hours in order to coerce them into signing false confessions.
This open letter was written by a Bahraini doctor who attended yesterday’s hearing. The trial has been adjourned until 13 June.
My dearest friends and colleagues,
This day, 6 June 2011, is a black day in the history of healthcare and all the ethics it stands for.
Today I attended the trial of the doctors, nurses and paramedics, perhaps the first of its kind.
What a shame, a real disgrace to we medical professionals who have devoted our lives — yes our lives, sometimes delaying very personal issues in our lives for our patients, putting our comfort and the comfort of our families aside for our patients and for the call of duty.
Today we were treated with utter shame, humiliation and disgrace. Why? Because we attended to our most basic duty, and that is to treat and care for the injured.
I want to sit down and cry, not because I saw my friends and colleagues weak and broken — but because I saw them standing tall, unbroken, behind the criminals who stand in the supreme military court.
They looked tired, exhausted, pale and for some reason [the authorities]wanted to augment their public humiliation by shaving off their hair completely. Apparently this is the trend: to shave off male offenders’ hair. How terrible! We have no rights now!
[The authorities] had no humanity to ask their families to get them decent clothes. They were brought in as criminals, wearing tattered and shabby sweat shirts and night gowns. These men and women always used to be fashionable and respectable. It was all intended to break them. They wanted to disgrace them before their loved ones who have not seen or heard from them for months.
The court was on top security alert with armed military men. You had to remove every piece of metal from your clothing or body: your watch, your ring, your belt. We were screened with metal detectors and body searched. If anyone was found carrying a prayer leaflet, rosary or even a bottle of water, all that was confiscated. The guards would shout at us if we spoke with one another. You would think that we were attending the most wanted terrorist trial and not the angels of mercy trial.
Bahrain is a tiny island where everyone knows each other and we doctors, especially the consultants, are well known. One of these doctors [on trial]would have treated [the military prosecutors’]kids or some member of their family or themselves — among them are a neurosurgeon, a neonatologist, an oral surgeon, an ortho surgeon, a family physician, an obstetrics and gynaecology doctor, etc. How can anyone think of accusing them of such terrible accusations?
People know us so we all decided to be strong and walk with our heads high. All of us, even the relatives who came to attend, were not broken by sadness.
My colleague’s wife came close to me and whispered in my ear "thank you for your positive energy, I could barely drive today but when I saw you smiling and speaking to all cheerfully, I am strong now". She had not seen her husband, an ICU consultant, since they raided their house two months ago.
Yes, we all decided that we must be strong, that our strength and positive energy must reach our colleagues. At least when they saw their loved ones today, I could see that their eyes gained some sheen.
They divided the medics’ hearing into two sessions and the military prosecutors asked for the most severe punishment for the criminals (death sentence) and you could tell it was all a staged drama.
The families had in haste arranged lawyers yesterday and some families were begging others to take their loved one’s case.
I left the court with my colleagues and I heard stories of beating, near rape, electrocution, etc.
When I reached home I could not eat or speak. It is too much. Oh God, is there someone out there listening and doing something? This could happen tomorrow to anyone if these people get away with it.
I cannot think of a word more powerful than SHAME and I will be haunted with images of these honourable men and women who stood tall before us all.
I pray that God will put an end to all their suffering, my punishment is trivial compared to theirs. How can I bear to work or practise when my colleagues are tortured and humiliated in the most severe way? The second hearing will be on 13 June.
Dear friends there must be something doctors and health workers can do, this is something threatening us all, especially with the changes all over the world. Where will the sick and injured go and who will protect the care giver?
May God bless you all. I apologise for my reflective mood what I saw today is beyond my imagination and comprehension.
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