In all the turmoil currently gripping the Arab nations, nothing has been more distressing for me than abuse of the human rights of the medical staff of the famous Salmaniya Medical Centre in Bahrain.
I must admit that I might be biased, simply because I am a physician, who had to swear to conduct his professional activities according to the Hippocratic Oath, which states "I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgement, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous."
I found myself over the years treating thousands of patients, a handful of whom were rude, aggressive, and even utterly obnoxious. I can say, in all honesty, that my management of their problems was entirely uniform and not influenced by my initial reaction to their behaviour. That is what doctors, nurses, physiotherapist and dentists always do, sometimes at personal physical risk to themselves. Whether the individuals they treated committed criminal or sabotage acts should have absolutely nothing to do with the conduct of the health professionals.
Therefore, to hear that Bahrain has jailed 20 medical personnel for up to 15 years is nothing less than diabolical. Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Khalifah (same family name as the King!) and Jamal Fakhro, a deputy in the appointed Shura (consultation) Council, accused them of acting against the state, and misdirecting medical supplies to the injured victims in Pearl Square, transforming the hospital into a base for a plot to overthrow the 200-year-old monarchy and above all insulting and inciting hatred against the monarchy. The latter was called "crossing a red line"! In other words, they could perhaps criticise lowly members of the administration, but never the King. But in an absolute monarchy like Bahrain, where nothing happens, at the political level, without the personal approval and micro-management of the King, who else is there to criticize?
Those two gentlemen told us that the trials were conducted in a very fair manner, according to the constitution and laws of the country, and that an "independent" committee would review the court decisions, and that the government had nothing to hide. All that begs the following questions:
1. Why were these civilian physicians brought before a military court in the first place?
2. Why did they not have access to their lawyers for up to three months?
3. Why were some tortured to the point of extracting confessions?
4. Why are truly independent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International or the International Red Cross not involved, instead of the so-called "independent" Bahraini committees?
5. Why were the security agents at the Salmaniya Medical Centre hiding their identities behind balaclavas, as shown on Al-Jazeera TV channel?
In the past seven decades of my life, I do not remember anything similar, during civil conflict or wars. I therefore looked it up.
It would appear that something far less egregious was committed by General Pinochet about 30 years ago. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine,
American physician, Dr. Jonathan Fine "had been asked to visit Chile on behalf of a group of physicians imprisoned by the Pinochet dictatorship. He was eventually allowed to meet with the Chilean physicians, who had been psychologically tortured by their jailers. He was stunned by what he saw and heard, but the physicians were released five weeks after his visit."
One wonders how stunned Dr. Fine would have been by the 15 year sentences meted out by a civilian government in the 21st century, while the American fleet is anchored within sight of the court room!
Dr. Qais Ghanem is the author of "Final Flight From Sanaa."