Bahrain admits raid on international medical group

AP News
Posted: Aug 04, 2011 8:21 AM
Bahrain admits raid on international medical group

Responding to criticism from Medecins Sans Frontieres, Bahrain said Thursday that police last week raided a medical center run by the aid group in the Gulf country because it lacked proper permission.

MSF, also known by its English name Doctors Without Borders, on Wednesday condemned what it called an "armed raid" on a facility it runs in Manama, the capital of the tiny island nation.

The July 28 operation resulted in the arrest of one of its employees, MSF said.

Authorities damaged property, confiscated medical supplies and other equipment, and arrested volunteer Saeed Mahdi, MSF alleged. It called the move "unwarranted and unacceptable," and insisted it has been transparent about its operations in Bahrain.

In a government response emailed to the media on Thursday, Bahrain's Ministry of Health acknowledged the arrest and the raid, saying police searched the group's offices only after obtaining a search warrant.

The ministry said police acted because MSF was operating an unlicensed medical center in an apartment building without the knowledge of the proper authorities.

Mahdi, who according to MSF works as a driver and translator for the group, was arrested after calling for an ambulance to treat a patient.

The patient had come to the MSF facility with a serious head injury, the group said.

But Bahraini authorities say Mahdi initially tried to hide his affiliation with MSF and told the police he was simply a bystander who reported the patient to emergency services.

Mahdi now faces several charges, including providing health services without a license and giving false information to the police.

Relations in Bahrain between medical professionals and the authorities have been fraught since February, when widespread protests led by the country's Shiite majority erupted against the long-ruling Sunni monarchy. Doctors and nurses who treated protesters were rounded up in a subsequent crackdown that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of activists.

International rights group Human Rights Watch last month said more than 70 medical professionals were detained during the four-month crackdown.

Many worked in the state-run Salmaniya Medical Center, a key hotspot during the revolt. The overwhelmingly Sunni authorities saw the mostly Shiite staff _ some of whom participated in pro-democracy street marches _ as protest sympathizers, although the hospital's staff claim they treated all who need care.

MSF said it has treated nearly 200 patients in Bahrain since February. They chose not to go to official health care facilities because they feared being arrested for their alleged involvement in the protests, the group said.