The Bahraini government has said it would lift a state of emergency on June 1. But controversy surrounding a violent government crackdown against anti-regime demonstrators continues to hang over the small island nation.
At the heart of that controversy are reports that the Bahraini government dispatched troops to intercept wounded protesters and prevent them from reaching a central hospital, and took action against medics who treated demonstrators that did get through.
A few days ago we spoke to Dr. Nabeel al Ansari, chief of emergency medicine at the hospital in question. He emphatically denied the reports. Following up on the story, VOA’s David Byrd was able to contact a trusted source believed to have first-hand knowledge of the protests and the events that transpired earlier this year at Salmaniya Hospital in the Bahraini capital, Manama. The person he spoke to requested that their name not be used and we have altered the person’s voice to protect their identity.
Byrd: What did you see at Salmaniya Hospital during the first confrontations in the middle of February?
Bahraini source: During the first day, initially in the morning we got a few injured patients and then they stopped bringing patients. And then we discovered that the ambulances were banned from reaching [to] the protestors and there were no patients coming. So that’s why the medical personnel protested against the minister that how he banned the ambulances from going and bringing more injured patients. That’s the first day.
Byrd: Now, let’s go forward to the middle of March, it’s around March 15 or 16 when the government cracks down on the Pearl Roundabout [a major congregation point for anti-regime protesters]. What did you see going on at Salmaniya at that time?
Troops are seen guarding one of the entrances of Salmaniya Hospital in Manama, Bahrain, March 18, 2011
Bahraini source: They attacked the roundabout. And immediately the military was surrounding the hospital with tanks and so many military people and masked men; we, the medical personnel, were inside and we were caught inside. Nobody was allowed to go out or to come in. I was there actually very early in the morning … before they came.
But any medical personnel who came after that, they didn’t allow them to come in. And we were waiting in the emergency expecting more injures - you know, expecting more injured people. But we didn’t get any, because they didn’t allow the ambulances to go any bring injured patients.
What happened at that time, the people in the roundabout - because they couldn’t reach [the] Salmaniya medical complex, which is the main hospital on the island - they started running away and those people who [were] okay they took the severely injured to nearby health centers, which are the primary health care places. A clinic, like a GP [General Practitioner], GP’s are there. So they took them there and they took them to some private hospitals. There were lots of injuries but we didn’t receive any in Salmaniya.
Byrd: The Hippocratic Oath [oath historically taken by doctors] says to do no harm; now there have been accusations that there were sectarian divisions in the distribution of treatment. Did you see any of that?
Bahrainis carry a wounded anti-government protester in Manama during the first wave of the crackdown, February 18, 2011
Bahraini source: Of course not! Of course not! We never ask the patient whether he’s Sunni or Shi’a. That’s all fabricated by the government. I mean, we have been living [as] Sunnis and Shi’as for years and we have very good relationship with each other. We are friends; we marry from each other and [a sectarian division] that’s not existing at all. We never ask a patient whether he is Shi’a or Sunni. That’s just the government trying to give a sectarian picture for the revolution.
Byrd: Did you happen to see President Obama’s speech to the Middle East last week and if you did, did he say what you were hoping he would?
Bahraini source: No, no, actually we were very frustrated. We thought that he would have a much stronger speech on Bahrain. He mentioned a good point about, you know, burning the Shi’a mosques and he mentioned that they have to go for dialogue and they have to release the opposition, but it wasn’t strong enough to ensure that they will do what he said or you know it wasn’t enough to emphasize the human rights violations here in Bahrain, which so many societies and so many very credible organizations have reported.
Byrd: What do you think the U.S. government should do in response to the crisis there and is President Obama’s speech strong enough or is more necessary?
Bahraini source: I think what we want to emphasize is the role of the U.S.A. in our problem in Bahrain. I think they have a big role and they should use their role in trying to solve this problem.