Security forces in armed raid on aid group

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The Independent Online

The Bahraini authorities have defended an armed raid on the offices of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), saying that it lacked the required permission to work in the capital, Manama.

The respected, French-based aid group condemned the raid as "unwarranted and unacceptable". One of its employees was arrested in, and its medical equipment and supplies were all confiscated.

The raid will raise questions over MSF's ability to continue operating in the tiny Gulf island kingdom, home to 1.2m people, where the government has been accused of systematically targeting medical professionals in retaliation for helping people injured in pro-democracy protests earlier this year.

Protesters, most of them members of the country's Shia majority, took to the streets in mid-February, calling for political reform and an end to discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority. The unrest rattled the Sunni monarchy, which cracked down on Shia civilians, laying siege to hospitals and clinics, razing mosques and arresting hundreds of alleged activists. But it has so far largely refrained from turning its ire on international aid bodies.

In an angry missive, MSF claimed that armed security forces stormed its offices on 28 July, damaging property, confiscating computers, medical supplies and equipment, and files.

Saeed Mahdi, a volunteer driver and translator for the organisation, was arrested for calling the emergency services a day earlier to send an ambulance for a man with a serious head injury who had walked into the office. An MSF doctor provided first aid on the spot.

Bahrain's health ministry claimed the organisation was running an unlicensed medical centre. MSF countered that it had always been entirely open with the authorities regarding its activities in the country.

The authorities also claimed that Mr Mahdi had tried to conceal his affiliation with the aid group, initially by claiming to be a bystander.

He faces charges of supplying false information to the police and providing medical services without a licence.