In response to peaceful protests demanding greater political freedom and equality that started thee years ago today in Bahrain, the government responded with excessive force, using tear gas as a weapon and targeting activists and health professionals with torture and arbitrary detention. Despite a prominent investigation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into these abuses, the Bahraini government has been slow to enact much-needed reforms.
Ebrahim al-Demastani, deputy head of the Bahrain Nurses’ Society, is just one of three medics who still languish in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison, in spite of international demands for their release. After being detained and tortured in 2011, al-Demastani was arrested again in October 2012. He is now facing a three-year prison term for treating anti-government protesters. Al-Demastani reportedly suffered torture in prison that resulted in a fractured tailbone and chronic back pain, and he has not been permitted to see his lawyer for three months. Al-Demastani and his two medical colleagues recently sent a powerful letter from jail describing inhumane conditions and calling on medics across the world to uphold the principle of medical neutrality, which prohibits interference with medical services during times of conflict and unrest.
Since 2011, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has advocated on behalf of the medics on trial in Bahrain. We have documented how, following the outbreak of protests, medics were tried, convicted, and sentenced, often on baseless charges, while others were abducted and detained. Government authorities have consistently targeted health professionals and medical facilities, especially those offering medical assistance to protesters. Medical professionals have been detained for adhering to their professional and ethical obligations of providing unbiased care to everyone. While in prison, health professionals have experienced additional abuses, including unsanitary conditions, denial of medical care, and torture.
On this anniversary, the global community must pressure Bahrain to halt human rights violations, including the targeting of human rights defenders and medical professionals. Nurse al-Demastani and the two other medics being held in Jaw Prison must immediately be released. Misuse of tear gas against Bahraini civilians must end. To add your voice to online calls for justice and accountability in Bahrain, tweet using the hashtag #Feb14LivesOn.