MANAMA (Reuters) - Three non-governmental groups said Bahrain must halt human rights violations and a crackdown on hospitals where doctors and patients suspected of having joined pro-democracy protests were being arrested.
Last month, the Sunni-led Gulf Arab kingdom crushed mainly Shi‘ite protests by declaring martial law, inviting in troops from Sunni neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and arresting hundreds of people, many of them activists or doctors.
Hundreds have been sacked from government jobs, rights and opposition groups say. Bahrain says it targets only those who committed crimes during the unrest in March.
London-based Amnesty International called on Bahrain’s Western partners to urge Manama to end arrests of medical staff and opposition activists.
It accused Western governments of staying silent because of Bahrain’s strategic location as home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and its importance as a Gulf trade partner.
“North American and European governments, so vocal recently in espousing the cause of human rights in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, need also to speak out loudly about what is going on in Bahrain,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Paris-based Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) Friday said Bahrain had turned hospitals into “places to be feared,” where both doctors and patients suspected of having a role in the protests were detained.
“Wounds are used to identify demonstrators, restricted access to health care is being used to deter people from protesting, and those who dare to seek treatment in health facilities are being arrested,” the aid group said.
Some doctors were too afraid to treat patients wounded during the unrest for fear of getting arrested, it said.
“The police, military and intelligence services must stop using the health system as a way to crack down on the protestors,” the group said in a statement.
It also called on the Bahraini opposition not to use the main Salmaniya hospital as a rallying point or political platform. Before the crackdown, many protesters had camped out outside the hospital.
Amnesty accused both the government and some protesters of violating Salmaniya’s medical neutrality during the protests.
Bahrain has accused doctors in the hospital of failing to treat patients during unrest.
U.S.-based rights group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said doctors were disappearing as part of systematic action.
“The excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, patients in hospitals and medical personnel that PHR’s investigators documented is extremely troubling and is cause for an immediate international investigation,” the group said in a statement Friday.
The main Shi‘ite opposition party Wefaq said this week more doctors and other medical staff were arrested this week for unknown reasons.
Gulf Arab rulers have accused non-Arab Shi‘ite Iran of interfering in Bahrain, where Shi‘ites form at least 60 percent of the country’s Bahraini population of around 600,000.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Janet Lawrence