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PHR Reiterates Call to Release Imprisoned Medics in Bahrain and Stop Shipment of Tear Gas

Government Crackdown and Attacks on Medical Community Have Continued

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today reaffirmed its call to the Bahraini government to immediately release medical professionals who have been wrongfully imprisoned and stop the ongoing targeting of the medical community. PHR, which has documented the Bahraini government’s attacks on doctors and illegal use of tear gas, also stressed the need to stop shipments of tear gas to the kingdom in order to prevent more abuses against the Bahraini people.

Three medical professionals who remain imprisoned in Bahrain recently issued a handwritten letter from jail urging “all the medics all over the world especially those at the zones of conflict to abide to and hold tight on the noble ethics and principles of medical neutrality.” Medical neutrality is the principle that requires government not to interfere with the functioning of health services during conflict or unrest. Following anti-government protests in 2011, Bahraini government forces deliberately targeted medical facilities and arrested, beat, and tortured dozens of health workers.

“By targeting doctors and nurses, the Bahraini government is not only scarring these individuals, but instilling fear in those who need medical care, and harming entire communities,” said Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s chief policy officer and Washington director. “Just as disturbing is that the Bahraini government, known for systemically using tear gas as a weapon against its own citizens, is now hoping to buy more tear gas canisters than the number of people who live in the country. The international community must not tolerate these kinds of ongoing abuses.”

While some of the medical professionals who served jail sentences have been released, others remain behind bars. Among those who authored the letter from jail are: nurse Hasan Matooq, who was sentenced to three years in prison and is due to be released in March 2014; Dr. Ali Al Ekri, pediatric orthopedic surgeon sentenced to five years of imprisonment and due to be released in March 2017; and nurse Ibrahim Aldemistani, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and due to be released in April 2015.

PHR emphasized the need to investigate those responsible for targeting Bahraini medics to ensure they are held accountable. The organization also warned about putting more tear gas into the hands of the Bahraini government. Global campaigns such as Stop the Shipment have been calling on companies to stop exporting tear gas to the country until the government takes specific steps to address past violations, including conducting full investigations, implementing accountability mechanisms, and retraining the security forces on the proper use of riot control agents. The companies believed to be exporting large quantities of tear gas to Bahrain include DaeKwang Chemical Corporation and CNO Tech of South Korea, and a South African/German company called Rheinmetall Denel, according to Stop the Shipment. Another South Korean company, Korea Defense Industry (KDI) may also be exporting to Bahrain.

In 2012, PHR documented the government’s use of tear gas as a weapon and the long-term health effects of such misuse. Bahraini police discharged canisters at close range and shot tear gas canisters directly into homes and other enclosed spaces. Those injured were afraid to seek formal medical assistance for fear of being arrested.

Since 1988, PHR has documented violations on medical workers, including the jailing of doctors in Iran and the targeting of medical facilities and health workers in Syria and the former Yugoslavia. PHR also helped introduce a bill that aims to safeguard the medical community during times of unrest.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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