Bahrain: an increasingly sick situation

It’s bad enough that the Bahraini security forces have been using shotguns, tear gas and even high-powered rifles to attack peaceful demonstrators in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout and numerous other locations in Bahrain.

But to also attack ambulance workers trying to tend to the wounded – how despicable is that? As you can see in a new Amnesty report, this has been a clear modus operandi of the Bahraini riot police.

For example, on 17 February, a particularly bad day in the “first wave” of attacks on Bahrain’s protestors, the police repeatedly singled out medical workers. That morning a convoy of five ambulances heading to Pearl Roundabout was stopped by riot police who dragged medics out of their vehicles and assaulted them. One medic, Jamil ‘Abdullah Ebrahim, describes being beaten by about 12 police officers armed with “black wooden sticks about 60cm long”. It was a coordinated, mass attack. Another man, Ja’fer Hasan, an ambulance driver, says the police “surrounded us, smashed the windows with rifle butts and pulled me out of the ambulance and beat me all over with sticks, on my arms and shoulder, and kicking me. It lasted about five minutes.”

If the medics were attempting to treat the wounded at Pearl Roundabout, you might almost ask who would there be to treat these newly-wounded (maybe the Bahraini riot police‘s callous motto is “physician heal thyself”).

Now, in what is a sort of “second wave” of crackdowns on Bahrain’s democracy demonstrators (after a comparative lull in late February and early March), the security forces’ lethal attacks have again focused on medics as well as protestors. For several days running I’ve heard harrowing media interviews with doctors and other staff at the Salmaniya hospital in Manana. They’ve talked (with panic clearly audible in their voices) about how the security forces have attacked staff and patients (“there are snipers … pointing their guns at us … they're firing tear gas", said a terrified-sounding staff member in this clip, “we’re hiding now in the corridors … under the staircases … in small rooms in the hospital").

With a dash of paranoia typical of authoritarian regimes, it seems that Bahrain’s security forces have decided that medics who treat protestors are somehow in league with them. Remember, this is not even one of these situations where doctors are dispassionately treating combatants form both sides in an armed conflict. These are (overwhelmingly) unarmed protestors.

Drafting in Saudi troops and Emirati police seems to be a clear signal from Bahrain’s King Al Khalifa that the authorities will, if anything, be prepared to crack down even harder on protestors. It’s a frightening prospect in an increasingly sick situation. 

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