As protesters demanding reform in Bahrain clash with police, they seek medical attention in damp, underground chambers for any wounds that they sustain during the confrontations. The protesters refuse treatment in public or private hospitals for fear of being arrested. According to Dr. Mohammed, one of the underground doctors caring for the wounded, the government is using “shotguns” (internationally banned hunting rifles) to disperse protesters. “Wounded protesters are coming to us, regardless of how serious their injuries are… We have treated a lot of serious cases. Many of the wounded have had their limbs amputated,” said the doctor.
Christian Science Monitor quoted many doctors in Bahrain saying that the government is monitoring the records of all patients who are admitted to hospitals in order to track down and later arrest those involved in protests. The government’s soldiers have been stationed in the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC), the only government hospital in Bahrain, to arrest those injured entering the hospital.
The government has also requested private clinics to inform it of all wounded people whose injuries appear to be the result of “illegal acts,” such as protesting. Since the outbreak of protests last year, some have established temporary clinics in their homes to treat the wounded on a daily basis. A group of doctors have also been teaching young Bahrainis first aid skills to keep pace with the increasing number of wounded. According to these doctors, the home “emergency rooms” are not equipped enough to provide the necessary treatment in some of the more serious cases. Four people died after refusing to be admitted to the SMC.
One young man shot with a “shotgun” during a protest is likely to lose his sight. “I refused treatment at the hospital because I was afraid,” he said. Richard Somolo, Deputy Director of the “Physicians for Human Rights,” (PHR) organization, said, “This is a serious issue that is not receiving appropriate media coverage.”
According to human rights organizations in Bahrain, soldiers stationed around the SMC are arresting people as soon as they arrive to the hospital, taking them to secret locations to be tortured. The Bahraini opposition see the medical complex as a government military base rather than a place where the wounded can receive necessary care.
Abdul Azizi al-Khalifa, Bahrain media spokesman and member of the ruling family, said that soldiers stationed around the SMC “respect the law.” He denied the aforementioned allegations outright, and said that wounded protesters are not being tortured by the soldiers.
The spokesman also said that no one has been denied medical treatment. “However, when the injury is serious, it is only normal to inform the security forces. This is the norm worldwide. We cannot be condemned in this regard,” he added.
According to Jane Kinninmont, a senior researcher at the Chatham House Center in London, the situation is critical and deteriorating day by day. Dr. Nabil Hamid, who works in the SMC and who was arrested alongside 28 other doctors for treating wounded protesters last year, said that “the relations between doctors themselves and their patients are vulnerable and shaky due to the sectarian divide [in Bahrain].”
He also said that all 28 doctors have been tortured by the police [sic], asserting that the law suit brought against them by the Bahraini authorities is “political par excellence.” Dr. Mohamed said that efforts must be made to dispel the fears associated with the public health system. He also emphasized the need for separating medical duties from politics. “Hospitals are places where patients receive care and treatment. This is their right to live,” he said.