The 'disappeared'

Bahrain's secret terror

Desperate emails speak of 'genocide' as doctors who have treated injured protesters are rounded up

The intimidation and detention of doctors treating dying and injured pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain is revealed today in a series of chilling emails obtained by The Independent.

At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, physicians, paediatricians and obstetricians, have been arrested and detained by Bahrain's police in the last month in a campaign of intimidation that runs directly counter to the Geneva Convention guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in conflict. Doctors around the world have expressed their shock and outrage.

One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient.

Many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been "disappeared" – held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics and ambulance staff have also been detained.

Emails between a Bahraini surgeon and a British colleague, seen by The Independent, describe in vivid detail the threat facing medical staff as they struggle to treat victims of the violence. They provide a glimpse of the terror and exhaustion suffered by the doctors and medical staff.

Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops have cracked down hard on demonstrators since the unrest began on 15 February – and the harshness of their response has now been extended to those treating the injured.

The author of the emails, a senior surgeon at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain's main civil hospital, was taken in for questioning at the headquarters of the interior ministry in Manama. He never re-emerged. No reason has been given for his arrest, nor has there been any news of his condition.

In a series of emails, passed on in the hope of drawing attention to the plight of he and his colleagues, the surgeon describes appalling scenes at Salmaniya hospital, with staff being threatened and detained in increasing numbers for treating injured democracy protesters.

"Interrogation committees question me about our role in treating the injured protesters, who are considered now criminal for protesting against the government," he said, shortly before being detained. "We said we were there to treat patients and have nothing to do with politics.

"I don't have good feeling about things going on in Bahrain. So many of our consultant surgeon and physician colleagues been arrested at pre-dawn raids and disappear."

On 17 February, at the start of the demonstrations, he wrote: "It has been a long day in the theatre with massively injured patients equivalent to a massacre. Things are still volatile and [I] hope there will be no more death."

By mid-March the situation had deteriorated rapidly: "Right now I am in the hospital exhausted and overwhelm by number of youth lethally injured casualty, it's genocide to our people and our hospital doctor and nurses are targeted for helping patients by pro government militia, so many doctors and nurses been physically attached for just attending injured one. ambulances smashed or targeted by military.

"I well leave know, marshal law imposed just few hours ago. I am grateful for what [name cut] taught me, it make it possible for me to help and save allot over the last days."

There followed a long silence before he wrote again: "Three weeks of hell. The military took control of the Salmaniya Hospital, doctors, nurses, paramedics and patients treated as suspects by soldiers and policemen. Daily interrogation and detention to some of our colleges." He added: "Very much intimidated and frighten."

The surgeon's British colleague said yesterday: "My friend is a very nice, very hardworking surgeon and totally apolitical. He was taken in for interrogation and hasn't been seen since.

"He and his colleagues have had a dreadful time. They have been proper doctors treating whoever turned up. His detention is appalling. Doctors are supposed to treat patients whoever they are, not locked up because they are caring for supposed dissidents."

John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "These reports of harassment of medical staff in the ongoing unrest in Bahrain, including surgeons trained in the UK, are deeply disturbing. The protection and care of people wounded in conflict is a basic right guaranteed by the Geneva Convention and one that every doctor or medical institution should be free to fulfil."

Michael Wilks, vice-president of the British Medical Association and a former chair of the ethics committee, said: "The Geneva Convention and international medical ethical standards are absolutely clear – punishing doctors because they are perceived to be treating patients of whom the regime disapproves is completely unacceptable."

The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, has expressed concern about the killings and beatings in Bahrain, ahead of a visit there.

Extracts from one doctor's emails

Thur 17 Feb 2011 at 9.24pm

It has been a long day in the theatre with massively injured patients equivalent to a massacre. Things are still volatile and hope there will be no more death.

Tue 1 Mar 2011 at 8.43am

I have been very busy with so many injured patients some of them very serious one.

Tue 15 Mar 2011 at 4.05pm

Right now I am in the hospital exhausted and overwhelm by number of youth lethally injured casualty, it's genocide to our people and our hospital doctor and nurses are targeted for helping patients by pro government militia, so many doctors and nurses been physically attached for just attending injured one. Ambulances smashed or targeted by military. I well leave know, marshal law imposed just few hours ago.

I need to see the kids.

I am grateful for what [name cut] taught me, it make it possible for me to help and save allot over the last days.

Fri 8 Apr 2011 at 6.42am

3 weeks of hell.

The military took control of the Salmaniya Hospital, doctors, nurses, paramedics and patients treated as suspect by soldiers and policemen daily interrogation and detention to some of our colleges.

Interrogation committees question me about our role in treating the injured protester, who are considered now criminal for protesting against the government, we said we where there to treat patients and have nothing to do with politics. I don't have good feeling about things going on in Bahrain so many of our consultant surgeon and physician colleges been arrested at pre-dawn raids and disappear.

Not only doctors, nurses paramedics, football players, university academics, dean of colleges... everybody is a suspect not sure but very much intimidated and frighten.

I have just walk up and felt of sending you this email to you, I hope this well not disturb you knowing how much you care about us.

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