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Irish fact-finding delegation 'bullied' in Bahrain

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We came to Bahrain to help Bahrainis," says the leader of the Irish delegation
  • Many of the Bahraini health workers had trained in Ireland
  • "It's most unfortunate that we were bullied and intimidated," says Irish ex-foreign minister
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Manama, Bahrain (CNN) -- Bahraini pro-government medics and state media staffers "bullied and intimidated" an Irish delegation of health workers and politicians here to secure the release of more than a dozen Bahraini health workers, said former Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews.

The incident occurred as the Irish delegation was completing a two-day fact-finding mission intended to determine the condition and secure the release of more than a dozen doctors and medical staff detained on anti-government charges.

But the news conference began to fall apart when 10 to 15 pro-government doctors and reporters for the state-run media approached the Irish delegation demanding to question them about their visit.

As the pro-government doctors and reporters circled the Irish health workers in the hotel lobby, officials decided to call off the news conference.

"That's not the sort of treatment we received when we were here," Andrews told a reporter afterward. "It's most unfortunate that we were bullied and intimidated by him and his representatives."

He accused the president of the Bahrain Medical Society, Dr. Nabeel al-Ansari, of provoking the incident.

Al-Ansari, who received his medical degrees in the Ukraine and the University of Toronto in Canada, was reappointed chief of emergency medicine at Salmaniya Hospital recently in the wake of the unrest after being sacked from the same post in 2006.

Speaking to reporters, al-Ansari said that the delegation was one-sided, despite the fact that its members had met with Bahraini government officials during the visit.

"Did they meet Bahrain medical society??" he asked on his Twitter account. "Noooo."

"We have not come to save Irish doctors," Damian McCormack, who led the delegation, told reporters. "We came to Bahrain to help Bahrainis," said the professor of orthopedic surgery at Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin.

The delegation arrived on the Gulf island with a letter of support from the Irish foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore. They traveled here as part of an effort to determine the condition of the Bahraini health workers, many of whom had trained in Ireland.

Since March, 47 Bahraini doctors, nurses, and paramedics have been charged and detained for supporting protesters during this year's pro-reform demonstrations that have swept across Bahrain. Another, a doctor, left the country without having been detained.

Fourteen of the health workers remained Thursday in custody. The others were released after their military trials, which began in June. Those released alleged that they had been tortured and forced to make false confessions.

The government has responded that it is not involved in torture. An independent, fact-finding mission headed by international experts has been set up to look into the assertions, but it will not be operational until next week.

Many of the Bahraini doctors are Shiite. Bahrain's majority Shiite community has long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni elite.

Bahraini protesters assert that the Sunni majority government discriminates against them in matters relating to their welfare spending, employment and the like. The Shiites make up about two-thirds of Bahrain's population.

The authorities here allege that Bahrain's Shiites who participated in the pro-reform protests that began on February 14 have links to Shiites in Iran. The Bahraini Shiites deny that is the case.

Last May, a report by Medecins Sans Frontieres, also referred to as Doctors Without Borders, said medical staff in Bahrain had been unfairly targeted by government forces and that wounded protesters were arrested when they arrived at hospitals for treatment.

Twenty of the health workers face charges that include weapons possession, the occupation of a public building, and calling for the overthrow of the regime.

Some medics are charged with carrying out unnecessary operations resulting in deaths of patients and denying treatment on sectarian bases.

The remaining 28 face charges of spreading false news about those killed and wounded during the protests and gathering in groups illegally.

The authorities here have detained more than 1,000 people since the crackdown began. Hundreds had been released quietly in recent days.

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