SAMA speaks out about the victimisation of doctors in Bahrain
To the Editor: Saunders and London1 correctly highlight the unjust punishment of doctors in Bahrain who treated people wounded during and after political demonstrations in that country. They have been unjustly subjected to military courts and been meted out sentences that are viciously disproportionate to their supposed infractions. The entire issue is clearly one where a state is abusing its authority and violently crushing any hint of rebellion. Similar incidents have now been reported in Syria, where doctors are being punished for treating so-called opposition rebels. Compounding this trend are reports, emanating from several sources, of doctors being tortured while in detention and women doctors even being threatened with rape while in detention. The issue of state-sponsored torture of doctors is reminiscent of our all-too-painful past in South Africa. The question correctly posed by the authors is why there has been so little outcry from South Africa, with its history of doctors subjected to political abuse. Unfortunately, this is where our agreement with the authors ends. Several statements have been made regarding the alleged inaction by the South African Medical Association (SAMA) on this issue. We need to set the record straight about SAMA’s response to date, as follows:
1. A SAMA press statement was released in October 2011 that wholly condemned the actions by the Bahraini Government.
2. A Medigram in this respect was released in October 2011 to members, highlighting the issue.
3. SAMA is a co-signatory on the World Medical Association statement condemning the behaviour of the Bahraini Government in October 2011.
4. SAMA is a co-signatory to the demand by the group called Physician’s for Human Rights to the Bahraini King to stop trials and punishment of doctors in Bahrain.
5. In January 2012, the Executive Committee of SAMA discussed the issue and agreed to approach the South African Government via the Department of International Affairs and Co-operation to intervene in this matter, if possible. This approach is ongoing.
SAMA would welcome advice on what further action we could take in this regard, but feels that the assertion that we have done very little is unfair and without foundation. Furthermore, we call on doctors to be aware of such alleged abuses being perpetrated against our colleagues and to condemn them.
Acting Chair, SAMA
1. Saunders S, London L. Health professionals should be speaking out about the victimisation of doctors in Bahrain. S Afr Med J 2012;102(3):112.
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