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Bahrain- Medical professionals subjected to ill treatment in prison to set up body of Medics for Human Rights

2013-11-11

On 30 October 2013, three medics sent a letter from Jaw prison outlining the conditions of their detention and their intention to set up an independent body of Medics for Human Rights. They were arrested during the 2011 uprising, and charged on fabricated charges. They assert that their only crime is the protection of ‘medical neutrality’.

The letter, seen by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), was signed by Ibrahim Al-Demistani a nurse and secretary general of the Bahrain Nursing Society, Hasaan Matooq, an emergency department nurse at the Salmaniya Medical Complex and a volunteer with the Bahrain Nursing Society, and Dr Ali Al-Ekri a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon. All three have been subjected to torture and ill treatment and in the letter they described the poor hygiene and health standards in Jaw prison and the overcrowding conditions in which they are being kept. They end by urging all medics over the world, especially those working in conflict zones, to abide by and maintain ‘the noble ethics and principles of medical neutrality and disclose and fight all the violations that endanger public, patients and health workers rights’. 

Ibrahim Al-Demistani, whose son was killed during the 2011 protests, was arrested on 17 March 2011. He is serving a three year sentence for allegedly ‘hiding and harbouring a fugitive’. This charge related to his treatment of a protestor who was severely injured during a demonstration in the village of Kazakan on 14 March 2011. He has been subjected to torture and forced to witness the torture of his colleagues, Dr Ali Al-Ekri and Rula Al-Saffar, and to sign false statements. 

Hassan Matooq has been subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation and on-going torture since his arrest on 24 March 2011. He was arrested at the emergency department in the Salmaniya Medical Complex by a group of 20 masked soldiers and is serving a three year sentence for allegedly taking unapproved photographs and “fabricating reality”. He was denied any contact with his family, including his wife and six year old son for weeks following his arrest.

During the uprising in March 2011 Dr Ali Al-Ekri, who was trained in Ireland and worked at Salmaniya Medical Complex for the last 20 years, carried out his regular duties as an orthopaedic surgeon and treated injured protestors. On 17 March 2011, he was abducted by security forces and was subjected to torture and placed in solitary confinement for six months. A military court handed down a 15 year sentence to him, which was subsequently reduced to five years on retrial by a civilian court.

The GCHR expresses serious concern at the treatment and on-going inhumane conditions to which Ibrahim Al-Demistani, Hasaan Matooq and Dr Ali Al-Ekri are being subjected in Jaw prison. The GCHR believes that the charges against them are unfounded and are directly related to the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their work as health professionals and their adherence to the principle of medical neutrality.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Ibrahim Al-Demistani, Hasaan Matooq and Dr Ali Al-Ekri;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological security and integrity of Ibrahim Al-Demistani, Hasaan Matooq and Dr Ali Al-Ekri  and all human rights defenders in detention in Bahrain;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 11 “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to the lawful exercise of his or her occupation or profession. Everyone who, as a result of his or her profession, can affect the human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of others should respect those rights and freedoms and comply with relevant national and international standards of occupational and professional conduct or ethics and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.