It seems hard to imagine that the situation in Bahrain, a small island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia, could be any more tense than it was when we were there in late March. The Shia majority have been pushing for more rights, and the Sunni-backed rulers have been resisting with brutal efficiency.
We walked down streets littered with empty tear gas canisters and past buildings covered with anti-government graffiti. We talked to protestors who had had their homes raided, their children teargassed, their loved ones detained or killed. We observed a peaceful funeral procession descend into chaos as police tried to break down the barricades that marchers had set up.
But it has gotten much, much worse over there. The fighting is now an almost nightly occurrence, and we are told “there are entire villages that are turning radical.” A Bahraini source smuggled out this video to us, telling us that “people have to see what is going on.” As the video shows, the Bahraini government has expanded the battlefield, cracking down not just on protestors in the streets, but also on Bahraini doctors and nurses who dare treat the injured. Earlier this week, six Bahraini doctors were jailed, after a court upheld their convictions for ‘working against the state’ when they aided wounded protestors in 2011. Their sentences range from one month to five years.
Bahrain’s hospitals have become militarized zones, with security patrols and surveillance cameras. Medics must report any injuries that may be the result of ‘criminal activity.’ Protestors know if they go to a hospital, they will be interrogated and possibly arrested.
So healthcare has moved underground. Our source filmed two Bahraini medics who, under the cover of darkness, traveled to a village outside the capital of Manama to help a group of young people who had been injured. Our source, and the medics, did this at great personal risk to themselves, knowing that if they were pulled over at a checkpoint and found with medical supplies, much less a video camera, they could be arrested or worse.
As you see in the video, the injured include a small child who was hit in the thigh by a stun grenade. The wounded need more sophisticated treatment than the assortment of bandages and antibiotics the doctors are able to bring with them. At a congressional hearing in August, Richard Sollom, the director of Physicians for Human Rights, denounced the ‘militarization of Bahrain’s public health system.’
The U.S. State Department has said it is ‘deeply concerned’ about the arrests of the Bahraini medics. But in May, the State Department announced it was resuming the sale of some military weapons to the country, which remains a “major non-NATO ally” and the home of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet.