Doctors Without Borders Targeted In Bahrain

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis participate in an anti-government march on July 29 in Saar, Bahrain. The protest took place a day after authorities raided and shut down the local office of an international medical aid group, highlighting the way the government crackdown has included medical workers who have treated injured protesters.

hide captionTens of thousands of Bahrainis participate in an anti-government march on July 29 in Saar, Bahrain. The protest took place a day after authorities raided and shut down the local office of an international medical aid group, highlighting the way the government crackdown has included medical workers who have treated injured protesters.

Hasan Jamali/AP

In Bahrain, the local office of the international medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres has been raided, its local driver has been arrested, and the operation has been shut down.

The government has largely suppressed a mass protest movement, and the security forces in Bahrain have carried out a crackdown on those who continue to demonstrate against the country's rulers.

MSF has been aiding injured protesters who were too afraid to go to the hospital, for fear they'd be arrested.

The trouble for the group — which is also known by its English name, Doctors Without Borders — started about a week ago. Activists say a young man who had been protesting in his village was hit in the head at close range by police firing a tear-gas canister.

The protester went to the MSF office in the capital, Manama. Owing to the severity of his injuries, an ambulance was called, and the patient was taken to the hospital.

On July 28, the next day, 14 police vehicles pulled up to the MSF office. Authorities raided the building and reportedly took away furniture, medicine and patient files — and arrested the group's local driver, Saeed Mahdi.

Map of Bahrain

Now, the rented villa that used to house the MSF office is locked up and empty.

The government says Mahdi lied about how the protester had been injured. A press release distributed by a Washington-based lobbying firm that's been contracted by the Bahraini government says Mahdi was charged with providing false information and providing medical services without a license.

The larger issue is the way that the medical community in Bahrain has become a battleground. During the crackdown, dozens of doctors and medics working in Bahraini hospitals were arrested and accused of making the wounds of protesters worse — and in some cases, even killing protesters — to make the government look bad.

Now, activists say the main government-run hospital has become a prison of sorts, with injured protesters being detained on site and held incommunicado.

MSF says it was providing a service for people too afraid to seek help in such a hospital.

The government says it was unaware MSF was operating in Bahrain. MSF spokesman Jerome Oberreit disputes that claim.

"We've systematically been transparent with the Bahraini authorities about our presence in Bahrain. On numerous occasions, we have submitted proposals to actually be able to run formal clinics, to be able to follow patients to hospital, and while they've received these proposals, they've never actually been answered," Oberreit says.

Mansoor al-Jamri used to edit Bahrain's only independent newspaper. He was forced from his job during the crackdown, after being accused of printing false information.

Al-Jamri says despite the government's recent efforts to remake its image — hiring public relations firms, launching a national dialogue, and inviting legal experts to investigate wrongdoing — cases such as this show that officials are not sincere about reconciliation.

"We would like to see a brave government — brave in the sense that it will face up to the mistakes that had been committed in Bahrain, and to reconcile the situation directly with the people," al-Jamri said. "Any maneuvering will only waste time, waste energy, and also possibly lose Bahrain the opportunity to recover."

MSF has confirmed that Mahdi, the driver, recently was released from detention. The condition of the protester who was injured in the head and taken to the hospital remains unknown.

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