Revolution #244, August 28, 2011

Revolution Interview:

The Uprising in Bahrain and the Regime's Repression of Health Professionals

A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.


Editors' note: Among the uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East against repressive regimes has been the struggle of the people of Bahrain. That country's ruling royal family, backed by the U.S., responded to the protests by detaining hundreds. Bahrain Center for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab was quoted recently by CNN as saying of the detainees: "Very rarely will you find someone who was not abused." The protests and repression have been almost completely whited out in the U.S. media. Human rights groups have asserted that hospitals are being used as torture chambers. Medical professionals in Bahrain have played a key role in exposing the brutality of the regime, and have—in turn—been targeted for vicious repression. Recently Revolution had the opportunity to interview a medical professional from Bahrain, and we are sharing that interview to provide some insights into the situation in Bahrain from their perspective.


Q: Can you briefly explain to our readers the background of the situation in Bahrain? What are people's grievances?

A: The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago in the middle of the Western coast of the Arabian Gulf composed of 40 islands with a total surface area of 747,000 square kilometers. The total number of the population is around 1.2 million. Bahraini citizens are around 600,000. The majority of the Bahraini people are Muslim; Shi'a are around 70 percent of the population. The ruling family, "Al Khalifa," are from the Sunni minority.

The basic demands of the people are political reform, freedom, true democracy, equity between all the citizens, and fight the massive corruption and the sectarian discriminations.

Q: What sections of people are protesting, and what do the protests look like?

A: The uprising that started in Bahrain on February 14, 2011 was by a group of youth inspired by the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia and Egypt. These youth are from different sectors, some are liberal, leftist, some are Islamic Shi'a—the majority—and some few were Sunni. These youth had arranged a peaceful demonstration in the Pearl Roundabout in the capital city of Manama.

Q: And what was the response of the regime to these protests?

A: From the start of the uprising, Bahraini troops and security forces started to attack medical workers, medical institutions, and patients suspected of participating in protests, primarily on the basis of the injuries they had sustained. At first the attacks appeared aimed at preventing medical personnel from treating injured protesters, but once the crackdown revived in mid-March security forces increasingly targeted medical personnel and institutions themselves, accusing some doctors, nurses, and paramedics of criminal activity as well as involvement with anti-government protests.

More than 47 health professionals, 24 doctors and 23 nurses, had been arrested during March and April 2011 and faced special military trials. The Bahraini government aimed at punishing and intimidating medical professionals suspected of sympathies with protesters and hindering access to health care facilities for persons wounded by security forces.

Q: Why have medical professionals been such a target of the regime's repression?

A: The Bahraini government appears to have targeted medical professionals directly in order to punish them after they started speaking publicly about human rights violations in hospitals and providing information on injuries inflicted on protesters, indicating excessive use of force by army and security personnel.

Q: What can people around the world do to oppose the detention and brutal treatment of these medical professionals?

A: They should conduct an independent investigation into alleged violations of the right of access to health care services and facilities in Bahrain by the UN personnel. And there needs to be international pressure on the Bahraini authorities to immediately stop the harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture or ill-treatment of medical staff working in health centers. To release all doctors and medical staff who are still in jail for no solid reasons. To stop the pro-government mass media from continuing fabricating information about the health professionals. To ensure that all medical records are returned to hospitals and health facilities and carry out an investigation to determine responsibility for any tampering with medical records. To ensure that all detained individuals have access to appropriate medical care—including specialized medical treatment, where necessary. And, request an invitation from Bahrain to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to investigate the detention of medical personnel and of patients with protest-related injuries in hospitals and health centers and report back to the UN Human Rights Council on the treatment of injured patients being held in detention facilities.

Q: The other dimension of how the situation in Bahrain is presented to people in the U.S. through mainstream media is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is contending for influence there. Little is made of military intervention by Saudi Arabia to support the regime, and the fact that Saudi Arabia too is a brutally repressive Islamic fundamentalist regime—albeit one allied with the U.S. How do progressives in Bahrain see posing an alternative to either of these "choices"?

A: As I mentioned in the beginning, the February 14 youth revolution had been inspired by the Arab Spring . It is pure Bahraini demands and nothing to do with Iran or other country. Though the government had related it to Iran, there is no evidence for that, and people in Bahrain don't want to replace their monarchy with another dictatorship.


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