(Manama) - Bahraini authorities need to ensure that people wounded by riot police have unfettered access to medical assistance, and that medical personnel can carry out their responsibilities without threat of police interference, Human Rights Watch said today. Bahraini security forces must also immediately cease their unlawful use of lethal force against protesters.
Doctors in Salmaniyya hospital, the country's main civilian medical facility, told Human Rights Watch that they could confirm the deaths of three people after security forces opened fire on protesters at 3 a.m. on February 17, 2011. They said two bodies were delivered to Salmaniyya and the third to a mortuary elsewhere. The victims, according to hospital records, are: Mahmoud Makki Ali, about age 23; Ali Mansour Ahmad Khudair, 58; and Isa Abd al-Khusein, 60. The doctors said all three died of fatal injuries caused by shotgun pellets which, judging by the nature of the wounds, had been fired from very close range. A fourth victim died as doctors struggled to save him. Members of the medical team at the scene of the attack said security forces attacked them and would not let them carry wounded people to hospitals.
"Medical personnel described a nightmarish situation," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Security forces not only attacked and used teargas against people who were trying to escape live ammunition, but they then kept them from getting medical treatment."
Doctors told Human Rights Watch that 35 injured patients had needed treatment for serious injuries as of the night of February 17. Four of those patients had been brought to the hospital in critical condition, doctors said. Human Rights Watch witnessed doctors fight to save 22-year-old Isa Ali Ahmed al-Moamen, but his wounds proved fatal. He died at around 9 p.m. Some doctors said they thought that al-Moamen was killed by live ammunition but seemed reluctant to confirm that officially as the cause of death. His death certificate only mentions pellets and a "plastic foreign body."
Overall, they said, they treated 255 patients for wounds sustained in the police attack very early that morning, both men and women, some at the scene of the attack. An additional 50 people were treated in the hospital and discharged over the course of the day, they said.
Isa, a staff nurse at the hospital, was among a team of 10 volunteers at the protest to provide medical assistance. He told Human Rights Watch that police moved in without warning and immediately fired large amounts of teargas and started shooting rubber bullets. He said:
I was part of the team of medical volunteers, so we all wore white aprons, and we also carried a big banner saying "medical team." When the police approached us, we begged them to allow us to assist the victims - by that time many people around were beaten up and injured. We said, "You can beat us afterward, but first let us help them."
There was some hesitation among the police, but then their commanding officer just screamed, "Beat them all, everybody!" We were trying to carry an old man, all covered in blood, away, but they beat us anyway. We also called for ambulances, but the police did not allow them to get to the injured all night. When I managed to get out of the square, there were still many injured left - we don't know what happened to them afterward.
Isa had bruises on his arms and legs and was limping on his left leg when Human Rights Watch spoke with him.
Isa told Human Rights Watch that most of the protesters at the Pearl Roundabout were asleep at the time of the attack. Many protesters, he said, were beaten and wounded with rubber bullets and shotgun pellets, yet the police did not allow the ambulances that arrived to enter the protesters' camp in the roundabout. Hospital staff told Human Rights Watch that police also beat four of their paramedics who arrived to pick up the wounded.
It is unclear what happened to injured people who remained in the square without medical assistance. A member of parliament belonging to the opposition al-Wifaq Party said that his party had a list of 18 people who remained missing.
One injured protester, who gave his name as Abdul, said that he woke up at 3:05 a.m., when the police surrounded the protesters' camp, and initially thought the police just wanted to scare the protesters. He said:
I saw them moving in from the north and south, with flashlights and in full gear as if they were going into a war. I was shocked and scared, but didn't think they would attack. But they immediately started running at us from all directions, and used teargas and rubber bullets.
Then panic started, people were trying to escape, and police were chasing them. In the Western side of the square there were many women and children, so men tried to run there to protect them. Suddenly, I saw about 20 or 30 policemen brutally beating a teenager right next to me, and together with some other men, I tried to rescue him. Instead, they beat me as well - I couldn't even figure out what they were beating me with, but then I felt a deep cut wound on my leg, blood streaming from it.
I fell on the ground, and several men were trying to help me, but as they were trying to carry me away, police chased us, and beat us again. Fortunately, they managed to get me outside the roundabout and there I got into an ambulance - police did not allow any ambulances in - and got to the hospital.