Irish Team Visits Bahrain With Blinkers On

Having made headlines for days on end prior to their arrival, the visit of an Irish delegation to Bahrain was something of an anti-climax which left a bitter taste in the mouth of every right-thinking Bahraini. The declared agenda of what turned out to be a biased and arrogant set of people with ear for only one side was to persuade the government to free a number of detained Bahraini doctors – many of them trained in Ireland. To achieve this end the Irish group were unwilling to listen to any opinion or look at any evidence which went against their agenda.

The eight-member delegation was headed by a professor who had trained three of the 14 detained doctors in Dublin and included former Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews, Khalid Ibrahim of a biased website called Front Line as well as a freelance photographer.

Some doctors are currently under trial in Bahrain for harming the interests of the patients as well as the state during the recent unrest through a variety of serious unlawful actions. These range from administering drugs to induce symptoms in patients to make it appear they had been attacked with nerve gas, denying medical services to expatriates and on racial grounds, illegally detaining other health staff and patients and commandeering ambulances to help protesters. At least two patients died during the height of the protests when some doctors aggravated their injuries to show to the international media how ‘brutal’ the local regime was.

It is rather odd though, that a delegation from Ireland should have arrived in Bahrain to commiserate with the detained doctors whereas Ireland’s own record of prison conditions is appalling. According a February report in ‘Irish Examiner’, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture [CPT] accused prison authorities of being “reluctant to take action” against staff accused of mistreating inmates despite supporting evidence. The CPT 2010 report also said it had “real concerns as to the safe and humane treatment of prisoners.” The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the report was a “national disgrace”. This is the place from where the delegation came!

Moreover, an impression had been created in the media some time ago by the visiting delegation that they had the backing of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland – until the college CEO Prof Cathal Kelly issued a statement that the RCSI had nothing to do with their visit. So the facade of the delegation being an officially-sponsored trip from RCSI fell by the wayside.

Next, on their arrival the delegation made a point of meeting many of the vehemently anti-government elements, some of which are in the business of running poisonous websites against the government, including Nabeel Rajab, so-called president of the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. But it pointedly refused to meet the Bahrain Medical Society and its Chairman Dr Nabeel Al Ansari so as to get a balanced picture, if that is what they were looking for.

They also consistently refused to accept any of the video or documentary evidence showing the misdeeds of the doctors under trial since that tended to refute and water down a number of their assumptions and ‘discoveries’ based on their meetings with the anti-government elements.

And finally they organised a Press conference where they refused to invite any of the local media and when a number of doctors, including Dr Al Ansari, who were only too keen to show the delegation all the testimonies and proofs to prove their points of view, tried to put across their points of view they were shouted down and ignored.

The delegation was also found to have been involved with a human rights organisation called Front Line which had Abdulhadi Al Khawajah, jailed for life last month for being part of a plot to forcibly overthrow Bahrain’s monarchy and having links with a foreign terrorist organisation, as Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

While the delegation’s suspect motives and biased and arrogant actions have been condemned by the local Press body and denounced by many a Bahraini parliamentarian, it is time such groups and outfits – whether visiting or local – functioning under the cloak of human rights causes are scrutinised more closely.

The delegation, which had no official status or sanction from any organization, had no permission to visit the detained doctors and therefore its entire perception and opinions rested on the testimonies of the doctors’ families and rejected spokesmen such as Nabeel Rajab. They had no visual evidence to produce, no credible or concrete argument to refute the charges against he doctors.

The mere fact that highly-educated and professional people are being put on trial cannot be a reason for outrage because education cannot be a reason for letting anyone off without punishment for grievous crimes. Irrespective of one’s background, the law has to look at the hard and incontrovertible facts on the ground and all the written, spoken and visual evidence which the Bahrain Medical Society and its members were keen to provide but were brushed aside brusquely.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.