Bahrain doctors remain in prison

A NUMBER of Irish-trained medical personnel unlawfully detained in Bahrain are not among 143 prisoners granted a royal pardon, despite pressure from Irish human rights activists.

Supporters of the detainees had hoped the pardon, which marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began yesterday, would be extended to all doctors and nurses still detained, but 10 remain imprisoned.

This is despite pressure from an eight-strong Irish delegation of doctors, politicians and human rights activists who travelled to the Middle Eastern kingdom in July. During the trip they requested that the remaining detainees at least be granted bail pending trial.

However, the request, made by the delegation to Dr Fatima Al Balushi, Bahrain’s minister of human rights and social development and acting minister of health, has so far fallen on deaf ears. Dr Al Balushi had said she would approach King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalif to request the prisoners’ release.

Among those still detained are Dr Ali Essa Al Ekri, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), who trained in paediatric orthopaedic surgery at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, and Dr Bassim Dhaif, also an RCSI fellow, who trained in surgery at the Mater, Temple Street and Cappagh.

His brother, Ghassan Dhaif, who trained in Ireland as a dentist, was also arrested and detained as part of a military crackdown ordered by the ruler against pro-democracy protests, part of the Arab Spring. Many of the detainees claim to have been tortured.

Writing in the Irish Examiner today, Professor Eoin O’Brien, a member of the delegation, said they had met with families of the imprisoned medics and that many felt betrayed by RCSI-Bahrain.

“Their regard for the previous minister for health, who had resigned because he had failed to protect doctors, was in contrast to their sense of betrayal by RCSI-Bahrain and the fact that none from the many representatives of both RCSI or RCPI [Royal College of Physicians in Ireland], who had visited the country recently for the graduation ceremony, had made any attempt to contact the families of imprisoned health care workers.”

Both the RCSI and the RCPI have been criticised for their failure to condemn the treatment of members by the Bahraini state. The RCSI has substantial financial investments in Bahrain. Among the courses it delivers is Healthcare Ethics.

Prof O’Brien, former president of the Irish Heart Foundation and professor of molecular pharmacology & in University College Dublin, said at the end of their two-day visit, the delegation “was in no doubt but that doctors had been subjected to human rights abuses”.

He warned the failure of the Bahrain authorities to recognise the importance of restoring the medical profession would have far-reaching consequences, including jeopardising its bid to be part of the 2012 Formula One championship.

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