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Bahrain hospitals used as ‘bait’ in crackdown: MSF

Medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday that hospitals in Bahrain were used as bait to snare wounded pro-democracy protestors after security forces took over health facilities.

MSF said in a report that the crackdown was denying the injured medical care.

The Bahraini government said allegations against it “appear to lack any firm evidence” and were part of an orchestrated campaign by protestors.

The MSF report also revealed testimony from patients admitted to the main public Salmaniya hospital who said they had been beaten there by security forces.

One of them said he was beaten on a close range rubber bullet wound to his head following surgery.

The agency said it had treated people in their homes after the Gulf kingdom’s hospitals and clinics were turned into “places of fear” rather than safe havens for the sick and wounded.

“Health facilities are used as bait to identify and arrest those who seek treatment,” said MSF medical coordinator Latifa Ayada as the agency called for the removal of security forces from Salmaniya.

“Wounds, especially those inflicted by distinctive police and military gunfire are used to identify people for arrest, and the denial of medical care is being used by Bahraini authorities to deter people from protesting,” she added.

MSF found that Salmaniya hospital was virtually empty during a visit on March 21.

It concluded that the use of the hospital first as a venue for demonstrations and then its occupation by the military, along with the targeting of other health facilities, had undermined the provision of impartial medical care in the country.

However, MSF said its offer to set up an emergency medical response in Bahrain had fallen through after it failed to secure guarantees from authorities that patients would not be targeted.

MSF underlined that opposition protestors should also guarantee that the hospital would not be used as a rallying point for demonstrations.

Human rights groups have reported that doctors and ambulance drivers have also been targeted in the crackdown.

MSF noted a “high level of trauma” among health workers in Bahrain, with many afraid to even talk about the medical situation.

The Bahraini government said in a Thursday response to the MSF report that “these continuing allegations, which appear to lack any firm evidence, seem to be part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign by the protest movement.”

The takeover of Salmaniya by security forces was “both unavoidable and necessary” because it “was used as a coordination centre by protestors and had been over-run by political and sectarian activity,” the statement said.

“Since this action took place, no patient has been refused the treatment and admissions have continued,” it said, adding that “medical facilities are operating as normal in Bahrain.”