The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders) today condemned an armed raid on its premises in Bahrain and the subsequent detention of one of its staff members.
On July 28, armed security personnel violently raided MSF’s premises in Manama, damaging office property and confiscating all medical and office equipment and supplies. A Bahraini MSF volunteer, Saeed Mahdi, who works with the organisation as a translator and driver, was arrested.
Since February, when demonstrations began in Bahrain, MSF has seen almost 200 injured and ill patients who did not seek care in health facilities because they feared being arrested for any involvement in the protests or for any affiliation with the protestors. The MSF team has seen patients in villages across the country who have refused urgently needed hospitalisation due to the high risk of arrest, and others who were severely beaten in jail.
“MSF has been transparent about its work and its intentions with the authorities in the country, including the Ministries of Health and Interior,” said Jerome Oberreit, MSF director of operations in Brussels. “As such, we find the violation of MSF facilities and the detention of our volunteer both unwarranted and unacceptable.”
Last week, a patient with a serious head injury arrived at the MSF premises. An MSF doctor provided first aid and an ambulance was called to transport the patient to the Salmaniya Medical Complex. It is MSF’s obligation to provide treatment regardless of a patient’s ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation.
Although Saeed Mahdi called the ambulance in an effort to simply help the patient and MSF, he remains detained. Repeated requests by MSF, his family, and his lawyer to have access to him have been denied. MSF has also not been able to obtain any information about the original patient, even after visiting Salmaniya to inquire about him.
Though MSF had been open about its work in the kingdom over the past several months, these events constitute a breach of the sanctity of an office maintained by a neutral medical humanitarian organization, and a violation of the rights of a patient to receive medical care. MSF has a raised its concerns following these incidences in a letter to the Bahrain Ministry of the Interior.
In March, MSF proposed establishing an emergency medical response in Bahrain, whereby MSF teams would provide first aid and accompany patients to health facilities to ensure that care is not obstructed or used as bait, that patients regain trust in health services, and that health workers are again able to conduct their duties impartially and without fear of reprisal. To this day, however, MSF has not been able to secure guarantees that patients would not be targeted.
It now appears that in Bahrain today, acting within the common boundaries of the duty of care principle—in this case, providing first aid and calling an ambulance for a critically ill person—is no longer possible without negative repercussions on MSF’s ability to work in the country
MSF calls on the Bahraini authorities to respect the integrity, security, and privacy of its premises and personnel, and to allow the lawyer and family of its detained staff immediate access to him.