x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bahraini government refutes claims it raided medical clinic

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Wednesday that security forces ¿violently¿ raided its clinic in the village of Jidhafs¿ on July 28. Yesterday, the Ministry of Health said the claims by MSF contained ¿serious falsehoods.

MANAMA // The Bahraini government yesterday dismissed claims by Medecins Sans Frontieres that the government illegally and violently raided its clinic, saying the medical facility was closed because it was operating without a permit.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Wednesday that security forces "violently" raided its clinic in the village of Jidhafs" on July 28. The MSF said authorities confiscating medical equipment and supplies. Saeed Mahdi, a Bahraini man working with the organization, was arrested and remains in detention.

The organisation, also known as Doctors Without Borders, called the raid "unwarranted and unacceptable". The clinic remains closed.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health said the claims by MSF contained "serious falsehoods."

"As MSF was aware, a licence was required to provide health services in Bahrain in the current normal circumstances," the ministry statement said. "The existence of this centre was not known to the relevant Bahraini authorities."

Jerome Oberreit, MSF's director of operations in Brussels, said on Wednesday that Bahraini authorities knew about the MSF clinic.

"MSF has been transparent about its work and its intentions with the authorities in the country, including the Ministries of Health and Interior," he said in a statement.

MSF said the raid occurred after a man with a head injury was brought to the clinic on July 27. A doctor treated the patient, according to MSF, but an ambulance was later called to take him to Salmaniya Medical Complex, the kingdom's main hospital.

The following morning, security forces came to the clinic and arrested Mr Mahdi, whom MSF described as a volunteer translator and driver.

Mr Mahdi was arrested and has since been charged with four criminal offenses including providing health services without a licence. Mr Mahdi's family, lawyer and colleagues have been denied access to him, according to MSF - a claim that was dismissed yesterday by the Ministry of Health.

Bahraini authorities say Mr Mahdi is also being detained for providing what they described as false information to police after he initially obscured the fact that the patient had been treated at the clinic.

The Ministry of Health claimed a warrant was then issued to search the medical centre.

MSF doctors have so far been unable to confirm the condition of the injured man, according to the group. The organisation said it has raised its concerns about the raid and the arrest of Mr Mahdi - who was previously detained without charge from May 6 to June 11 - in a letter to Bahrain's Ministry of Interior.

 

Bahrain's medical sector has been drawn into the conflict that broke out in February, when thousands of mainly Shiite Bahrainis began protesting and demanding change and political reforms.

Clashes between protesters and security forces have left at least 35 dead and hundreds injured. As many as 200 injured and ill patients have been treated by MSF's team since February, according to the organisation, including protesters wounded in continuing clashes with security forces and others who were allegedly beaten while in detention.

After the government's crackdown on demonstrations in March, 48 Bahraini doctors, nurses and paramedics were charged with crimes ranging from incitement against the government to seizing control of Salmaniya Medical Complex. Fourteen of the medics remain in detention; the rest are free and awaiting a verdict in their cases.

The hospital's grounds saw anti-government protests in February after many of those injured in the violence were sent to the facility for treatment. After the government imposed a state of emergency, Salmaniya was placed under military control, a move authorities said was meant to protect the facility. Armed soldiers at checkpoints monitored who entered and exited the hospital, leading some patients to avoid the facility fearing that they would be linked to anti-government protests.

The state of emergency has since been lifted, but a security presence remains at the hospital.

In a report published in April, MSF criticised the Bahraini government for its alleged "use of medical facilities...to crack down on protesters".

The group claimed that patients had been arrested from hospitals and health centres after they were identified by the "distinctive" wounds inflicted by police and military gunfire.

zconstantine@thenational.ae