Last week, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) authored a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the King of Bahrain expressing concern about the Bahraini highest court's refusal to overturn the convictions of six Bahraini health care workers. The letter calls on the King to pardon all those medics who remain in prison, whose sentences range from several months to five years, in order to adhere to international norms of medical neutrality.
Dozens of medics were first arrested in April 2011 after treating injured protesters during last year's uprising. Many of the medics worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in the Bahraini capital of Manama. Since then, the Government of Bahrain has militarized the hospital, preventing those in need of treatment from accessing necessary care.
"As a medical doctor, I have always believed in the importance of protecting the rights of medical professionals who provide care to those in need during armed conflict and civil unrest, as reflected in international humanitarian law and international human rights law," McDermott said. "Health care workers have an ethical duty to serve those in need. The Bahraini doctors and nurses were eyewitnesses to the deadly crackdown on protesters last February, which likely made them a target for government abuse. Accusing them of possessing weapons and inciting hatred smacks of politicization of medicine and undermines Bahrain's ability to uphold international standards of human rights and the health of its people."
McDermott added, "Several of the medics who have been imprisoned are on hunger strike. I urge Bahraini authorities to pardon all the medical professionals in prison immediately."
In July 2011, Congressman McDermott introduced a bipartisan legislation to support medical neutrality (H.R. 2643), which was heralded by human rights groups as a major achievement in protecting medical professionals who serve those in need in armed conflict and civil unrest.
The bipartisan, bicameral letter that McDermott sent to the King of Bahrain was signed by more than 20 members of Congress.
The text of the letter follows:
His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa
The Amiri Court, Riffa Palace
P.O. Box 555
Your Royal Highness,
We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the arrest of six Bahraini medics last week after Bahrain's highest court refused to overturn their convictions. Dr. Ali Al Ekri, Dr. Ghassan Dhaif, Dr. Mahmood Asghar, Dr. Saeed Al Samahiji, Dheya Ibrahim, and Ibrahim Al Demistani were arrested in the early morning and brought to prison to serve sentences ranging from several months to five years. Two additional medics, Ahmed Almushatat and Hassan Matooq, have been in prison since 2011. We call on Your Highness to pardon these eight medics in an effort to adhere to international norms of medical neutrality. Pardoning the medics would represent a significant step forward in the Bahraini government's protection of medical personnel as well as the general health of the population.
The eight medics were first arrested in April 2011 after treating injured protesters during last year's uprising. Based on conversations with the medics themselves as well as independent investigators, we believe they were targeted not because of criminal activity, but because they were first-hand witnesses to the injuries caused by the Bahraini security forces' excessive use of force.
In the past, we and our colleagues have expressed our concern about the detention of political prisoners, excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, and the denial of independent investigators' access to the country. We remain concerned about the well-being of all those currently in detention and reiterate our calls for the Bahraini government to adhere to its promises to implement recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and from the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council. Pardoning the eight medics currently serving sentences for treating protesters would be a key step in moving Bahrain's practice in line with its international obligations.
JIM McDERMOTT, Member of Congress
RON WYDEN, United States Senator
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Member of Congress
JEFF MERKLEY, United States Senator
JOHN W. OLVER, Member of Congress
JOHN CONYERS, JR., Member of Congress
DENNIS KUCINICH, Member of Congress
ADAM B. SCHIFF, Member of Congress
HANK JOHNSON, Member of Congress
BARBARA LEE, Member of Congress
KEITH ELLISON, Member of Congress
RUSH HOLT, Member of Congress
LYNN WOOLSEY, Member of Congress
CHARLES RANGEL, Member of Congress
RAÚL GRIJALVA, Member of Congress
TRENT FRANKS, Member of Congress
JIM MORAN, Member of Congress
ALCEE HASTINGS, Member of Congress
SHEILA JACKSON LEE, Member of Congress
EARL BLUMENAUER, Member of Congress
ROSA DeLAURO, Member of Congress
MICHAEL HONDA, Member of Congress
JAN SCHAKOWSKY, Member of Congress
SAM FARR, Member of Congress