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Wed 20 Jul 2011 12:04 PM

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End attacks on Bahrain medics, urges rights group

HRW says Bahrain waging campaign against medics, denying activists treatment

End attacks on Bahrain medics, urges rights group
HRW claimed the Bahrain government has carried out a campaign of attacks on medical professionals

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bahrain government to end what it described as a campaign of arrests against medical professionals

In a 54-page report, the rights group claimed the Bahrain government had waged a campaign against medics and facilities and had denied some injured protestors access to treatment.

"The attacks on medics and wounded protesters have been part of an official policy of retribution against Bahrainis who supported pro-democracy protests," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Medical personnel who criticised the severe repression were singled out and jailed, among the more than 1,600 Bahrainis facing solitary confinement and ill-treatment in detention and unfair trials before a special military court."

Political protests have continued to engulf the island state since the onset of the Arab Spring earlier this year. In March, Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law and called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Gulf neighbours to quell weeks of unrest during pro-democracy demonstrations by mostly Shi'ite protesters.

While martial law has since ended, on Sunday Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq said it planned to pull out of a national dialogue set up by the government.

Wefaq had complained for weeks the opposition had been given too small a fraction of seats - 35 out of 300 - and was overpowered by pro-government representatives. The government says it distributed seats in a way that was representative of Bahraini society.

HRW claim the attacks by government security forces against medical workers began on February 17 and culminated in the March 16 armed occupation of Bahrain's main public hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex.

The report also cited interviews with paramedics who claimed military forces had attacked ambulances and prevented them from transporting injured protesters to medical centres.

The US-based humanitarian organisation claims around 70 medical professionals have been arrested since March 17 and around 150 have been suspended.

On April 21, HRW said it wrote to the acting health minister, Dr. Fatima Al Balooshi, requesting information regarding official allegations against medical staff and has yet to receive a reply.

"Officials justify the government's crackdown and the arrests of the medics by alleging that they violated the principle of medical neutrality and committed heinous crimes," Stork said.

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