• Press Release

Amnesty International Makes Worldwide Appeal to Health Professionals on Behalf of Bahraini Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics Reportedly Tortured Before Standing Trial for Treating Wounded Protester

June 15, 2011

Organization Plans Twitter Campaign Wednesday Demanding State Department Send High-Level Observer to Bahraini Opposition Leaders' Trial

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, [email protected]

(New York) – Amnesty International on Tuesday urged health professionals worldwide to demand that Bahrain investigate reports of torture of some of the 48 doctors, nurses and paramedics who are being tried by a special military court. The health professionals were arrested after they treated protesters wounded during the bloody street protests in February and March demanding government reforms.
In a worldwide “Appeal for Action,” the human rights organization urged health professionals to send appeals to King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa demanding the investigation and urging that authorities ensure that confessions obtained under torture are not used at trial.

In addition to the health professionals, the special military court will try a prominent human rights lawyer, Mohammed al-Tajer, who works to defend human rights and opposition activists; he was brought before the court on Monday. Amnesty International considers al-Tajer to be a prisoner of conscience targeted for his work as a human rights lawyer as well as for being an outspoken critic of the government.

“We fear this lawyer and many of the health workers have been detained solely for political reasons after they defended or treated pro-reform protesters and spoke out against the authorities in the media,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

“Where this is the case, we would consider the detainees to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

On Wednesday, June 15 — one week before the trial of 21 opposition figures in Bahrain resumes on June 22 — Amnesty International USA is mobilizing the public to call on the U.S. government to speak out more strongly against unfair trials in Bahrain. Specifically, Amnesty International has said the United States should guarantee that a high level representative from the U.S. embassy in Bahrain will attend the trial.
Messages to the State Department will include:
@statedept Pls ensure you observe trial of #bahrain opposition http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
@statedept Pls protest unfair trial of #bahrain activists http://bit.ly/lXEzpH #feb14
T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director in Washington, said: “As a strong ally of Bahrain, it is the United States' duty and responsibility to raise concerns about abuses and to secure meaningful commitments for improvements. The world should know whether the United States is taking the human rights situation in Bahrain seriously. There should not be one standard for Bahrain and another for other countries in the region.”
Bahrain’s government set up the special military court – which is presided over by one military and two civilian judges – under a National Safety Law enacted in response to the protests. The law was revoked on June 1.

The trial of 48 medical workers resumed Monday following earlier complaints that lawyers did not have sufficient access to their clients. The next session is due to take place on June 20

Dr. ‘Ali al-‘Ekri, rula al-Saffar, head of the Nursing Society, and Dr. Zahra al Sammak told the court that torture had been used against them to extract confessions, which they had to sign while blindfolded.
 The Bahraini government alleges the Salamaniya Medical Complex, where many of the medical staff worked, served as a coordination center for pro-reform protests and  accuses  the workers of stealing medicines, stockpiling arms, giving anti-government statements to international media and inciting hatred of the regime.

The defendants have had very little access to their families and some allege they have been tortured in detention and forced to sign confessions. Several of the defendants have already been released on bail.  

“Independent witnesses who were present at Salamaniya hospital have said that the charges against the health workers are preposterous – that the doctors and nurses were merely doing their jobs, tending to people injured in clashes with security forces,” said Luther.

The military court on Sunday sentenced a young female activist to a year in prison for charges related to her public recital of a poem critical of Bahrain’s King.

On the same day, Matar Matar and Jawad Feiruz, two former members of parliament representing al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s biggest Shi’a political party, were put on trial. Charges against them include propagating false information, participating in unauthorized demonstrations and urging people to demonstrate against the government.

At least 500 people have been detained since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.