1st Oct, 2012 –
Bahrain’s top court on 1 October 2012 confirmed jail sentences of nine doctors for their role in last year’s protests. Following a lengthy appeals process these medics are to be imprisoned for up to five years. This court upheld the accusations made against these medical personnel, which are to a large extent backed up by the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), headed by a prominent international judge.
The BICI severely criticized the involvement of certain medical personnel in political activity. The report describes the actions of these medics as “highly disruptive” to the operation of Salmaniya Hospital. This included “leading demonstrations”; breaking patient confidentiality through facilitating media access; and using ambulances “to transport protesters”.
The BICI report quoted numerous sources asserting that medics had actively sought to take over the hospital as a “high value site” in support of the uprising. Video footage and testimonies show mistreatment and discrimination against patients, particularly Sunni expatriate workers, described by the report as a “disregard for medical ethics”. The below sections are taken directly from the BICI report:
What does the BICI report say about events at Salmaniya Hospital?
Restriction of entry to the SMC
“The Commission received video footage showing a Shia cleric calling on young men to control the entrance and exit of SMC (Salmaniya Medical Complex). Some of the medical personnel controlled the Emergency Section, the ICU and most of SMC’s ground level.”
“The occupation and control of the area by protesters hampered general access to the hospital and created a perception of an unsecure environment for those requiring medical care. Some Sunni patients seeking to gain access to SMC for medical treatment were turned away. The involvement of some doctors and medical personnel in various political activities on and around the SMC premises was difficult to reconcile with the full exercise of their medical responsibilities and highly disruptive to the optimum operation of an important medical facility.”
Political activism – affiliation with the opposition
Some medical staff “had political ties with the opposition and pursued a political agenda. Among them were some who were seen leading demonstrations and chants against the regime both outside and inside SMC. These persons moved in and out of their roles as political activists and medical personnel.” “Photographs received by the Commission show protesters, including some medical staff, participating in protests inside and outside SMC.”
Media access – breaking duty of confidentiality
“Medical staff did not attempt to prevent the media from filming inside the Emergency Section and on the ground floor of SMC in general, thus contravening the Code of Ethics in terms of patient confidentiality.”
The Deputy Chief of Medical Staff stated that “one of the accused doctors was not making any effort to assist victims but was instead running around with an Al Jazeera crew… The next day, this doctor gave a statement that there were countless casualties lying all over the floor at SMC, despite the fact that the total number of people at SMC was actually less than the day before.”
Misuse of ambulances & medical equipment
Regarding the claim “that protesters used ambulances to transport protesters between the roundabout and the University of Bahrain where demonstrations were taking place on 13 March 2011, there is reason to believe this occurred.”
“The accusations regarding protesters pouring blood on themselves in order to appear injured refer mainly to witness statements and video footage. An ambulance driver stated that… he saw protesters throw blood on their clothes and bodies in order to appear injured. Commission investigators received video footage showing protesters pouring blood from blood bags onto their clothes.”
“Hijacking” Salmaniya Hospital
“The Head of the Emergency Section, the Deputy Chief of Medical Staff and a BDF doctor stated that the accused doctors were part of a ‘parallel’ programme or plan that aimed to ‘hijack’ the hospital…The BDF doctor suggested that the decision to take over SMC would have been taken when the protesters and the political forces behind them felt that they had achieved their ‘political’ purposes and wanted to capitalise on their success and control a high value site.”
“The Deputy Chief of Medical Staff stated that in meetings on 19 and 20 February, it seemed that some doctors were trying to take over the administration of SMC and to replace the department heads. This move was rejected, which led them to try and control the entry and exit of patients in the Emergency Section.”
The report quoted the Bahraini Government’s statement: “The aim was to support [the protests] materially and morally by placing all the hospital’s capabilities at their disposal… They imposed their total control on the sections of the hospital, and threatened doctors and other officials who objected to their methods. They set up tents for protesters in the parking lot of the hospital.”
Discrimination and violence against patients
“The Commission received several complaints alleging discrimination against Sunni patients by medical staff at SMC… Videos and witness statements show mistreatment against patients because they were Sunni expatriate workers… Statements by witnesses suggest that the manner in which some of the doctors treated some injured expatriate persons rises to a level of human insensitivity and professional disregard for medical ethics.”
An SMC surgeon witnessed two individuals “being taken to the Emergency Section with severe head injuries… He heard one accused doctor shout, ‘Get these mercenaries away and throw them out and let BDF Hospital treat them’”. This surgeon saw a “Shia security guard beating a Pakistani man in a wheelchair”.
The Chief Resident Doctor witnessed two Pakistanis, who had been brought in ambulances and who had their hands tied, being attacked by protesters. He stated one of the accused doctors “attacked one of the patients, pulling him violently, and asked the Chief Resident Doctor not to ‘release the handcuffs of the animal’. He also witnessed this doctor attack other injured patients.”
False rumours – impersonation of staff
“Concerning the Government of Bahrain’s claims that the accused medical staff intentionally spread false rumours and information about the events at SMC, there is evidence supporting these claims with respect to some, but not all, medical personnel.”
“At least one individual impersonated an SMC medical staff member. Video footage was received showing an individual who was not a staff member at SMC giving false information to an unknown news agency.”