Bahrain Detains Doctors Who Treated Protesters
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Bahrain's foreign minister is in Washington, D.C. this week. His talks with American officials are expected to focus on what's next for this small country off the Arabian Peninsula that has big strategic value for the U.S.
Bahrain has lifted the martial law it used to clamp down on protestors. Still, armored vehicles patrol the streets and hundreds remain in jail. Detainees include elected officials, opposition members and even doctors accused of treating protestors. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.
KELLY MCEVERS: The crackdown on doctors started at the Salmaniya hospital, the main government-run medical facility in Bahrain. It was the closest hospital to the Pearl Roundabout, where hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled for weeks, demanding reforms in the government.
This YouTube video shows stretcher after stretcher rolling into the emergency room, carrying protesters shot by security forces on the night of February 18th. The protesters were mostly Shiites. They claim Bahrain's Sunni royal family discriminates against them. Rumors flew around the island that Shiite doctors were faking protesters' injuries to strengthen the anti-government cause.
In mid-March, government troops stormed the hospital and began rounding up doctors. One was taken while performing surgery.
We spoke to one woman whose relative was a leading physician in Bahrain. We've altered her voice so authorities won't recognize her. Just after the crackdown began, an intelligence officer called the doctor and said...
Unidentified Woman: We need to question you for a few hours, and then that's it.
MCEVERS: Family members drove the doctor to intelligence headquarters.
Unidentified Woman: The guy who took him said just you can just wait outside. And then they waited for a very long time.
MCEVERS: But the doctor never came out. Now it's been more than 50 days and still no charges and no word of his whereabouts. In the first week, he was able to make one phone call. He told his family he was fine.
Unidentified Woman: But he gave, like, a message, saying that, you know, he needs help.
MCEVERS: What? You mean like he spoke in kind of a code or something?
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: I mean, it's just a code that we know, if anything happens.
MCEVERS: It's like the eagle has landed, something like that?
Unidentified Woman: Something like that. Yeah.
MCEVERS: This doctor is one of 47 medical professionals now being detained by Bahraini authorities. International human rights groups say the government is trying to erase all evidence that security forces killed and injured protesters. Officials say the doctors exaggerated or in some cases even caused the injuries of protesters.
The woman is emphatic that her relative is secular and non-partisan. Like doctors everywhere, she says, his job is simply to treat the sick.
Unidentified Woman: Why they don't punish the police who is after the protesters? Or the soldiers who killed the protesters on 18th of February? They were protesting peace.
MCEVERS: Thirty people have died so far in the government crackdown on protesters. Four of these died while in custody. So far, no security forces have been charged.
The woman she says her relative's youngest children still don't even know where he is.
Unidentified Woman: One of the children keeps asking about his dad. We keep lying. We keep saying that he's in a long trip.
MCEVERS: The woman tells her story in a luxurious home overlooking a lush tropical garden and hand-tiled pool. The woman says while the protest movement started with poor, young, disenfranchised Shiites, cracking down on the upper middle class will only broaden the movement to include wealthy, secular professionals.
Unidentified Woman: The officials and the government of Bahrain, they managed to create a fear among the merchants and the business community. I guess they're making a big mistake.
MCEVERS: Salmaniya hospital is now a military zone. Soldiers, police, and armored vehicles occupy every entrance. Driving around Bahrain in his luxury SUV, another relative of the detained doctor told us the family's horror has become a part of their daily routine. It's a horror, he says, they won't easily forget.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News.
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