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Thu 4 Aug 2011 07:41 AM

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Bahrain police raid medical charity, hold worker

Medecins Sans Frontieres accuses Gulf state of violating the right to medical care

Bahrain police raid medical charity, hold worker
Bahrains hospitals have been the site of clashes between security forces and protesters during the Bahrain uprisings

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Wednesday Bahrain police entered its offices last week, detaining one staff member and seizing equipment, and accused the Gulf state of violating the right to receive medical care.

Bahrain crushed a pro-democracy protest movement earlier this year, calling in troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and using martial law for over two months. It has accused medical staff of backing protesters.

MSF said a Bahraini volunteer, Saeed Mahdi, was detained after he called an ambulance to treat a man who had come to MSF premises with a serious head injury.

"It is MSF's obligation to provide treatment regardless of a patient's ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation," MSF said, adding it had complained to the interior ministry.

Bahrain's health ministry later accused MSF of operating an unlicensed medical centre in a residential building, and said that a police search of the premises was carried out with a warrant.

"Mr Mahdi was charged with four criminal offences, including providing health services without a licence and providing false information to the police and the public prosecutor," a ministry statement said.

Separately, Amnesty International said two Bahraini women activists imprisoned and allegedly tortured for their involvement in protests had begun a hunger strike to demand their release.

Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, and Jalila al-Salman, vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association, have been held for several months, the rights group said.

"[Their] decision to go on hunger strike is a desperate attempt to protest against their imprisonment and the way they have been treated," Philip Luther, a regional deputy director, at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Bahrain denies any systematic abuse by its security forces and has said all charges of torture would be investigated.

The government has accused the pro-democracy protesters, who came mainly from the majority Shi'ite population, of having a sectarian agenda backed by non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran, a charge they deny. Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet.

The government has also accused medical staff of a major Manama hospital of supporting the protesters and faking and worsening injuries in order to make security forces look bad. Some doctors are on military trial facing such accusations

Bahraini doctors have dismissed the charges as ridiculous.

"It now appears that in Bahrain today, acting within the common boundaries of the duty of care principle ... is no longer possible without negative repercussions on MSF's ability to work in the country," MSF said in a statement.

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