Friday, September 30, 2011

From 'hero' to 'criminal' for Bahrain surgeon

Dr Tammam (second from left) and Dr Al-Ekri (third from left) are greeted by the Palestinian ambassador to Bahrain upon their return home from treating people wounded in Gaza.

Dr Ali al-Ekri, dubbed a hero when volunteering to help Gaza's injured, was jailed after pro-democracy protests.



"On Thursday a military court sentenced orthopaedic surgeon and Bahraini "local hero", Dr Ali al-Ekri, to 15 years in prison on more than a dozen charges. Nineteen other doctors who, like Dr al-Ekri, had also treated injured protesters - or who themselves took part in pro-democracy protests earlier this year - also received jail sentences of between five and 15 years.

Before protests began in February this year, Dr al-Ekri was a well known figure in Bahrain. In January 2009, the surgeon travelled to the occupied Gaza Strip to volunteer amid Israel's devastating land, air and sea assault on the territory. In less than three weeks, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 5,000 wounded, the overwhelming majority of which were civilians. After 11 days of volunteering to treat the wounded at the al-Najjar hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Dr al-Ekri returned to his native Bahrain, hailed as a hero.

When Israel attacked Gaza, a territory that had already been under a tight Israeli-Egyptian blockade for more than two years, Arab cities exploded in protest. From Rabat to Beirut to Sanaa to Manama, massive street demonstrations took place, condemning the attacks that began just two days after Christmas Day in 2008.

"When we first saw the atrocities against the Palestinian people in Gaza ... and the images and suffering, it ignited a [flame] in me and my colleagues to do something [to support them] here in Bahrain," Dr al-Ekri explained.

"Through the Bahrain Medical Society we started to collect aid to be sent to Gaza. We raised hundreds of thousands of dinars and we decided to deliver two ambulances.".....

Being used

Dr al-Ekri says he and other doctors are "playing cards" in the political games of the regime. "For us they know we witnessed all the crimes of the regime and we stood strong by injured people and we talked to the media," he said. "Anywhere, like in Gaza and in Yemen now, doctors speak about what they see. When you journalists need to know what happened who do you go to?"

Dr al-Ekri, who is being treated as the "leader" of the group of doctors, was found guilty of the most charges, including possession of weapons, occupying a public building, promoting the downfall of the regime and inciting sectarian hatred. In total, there were more than a dozen charges.

The one-time hero of Bahrain for braving Israeli bombs and treating the injured in Gaza maintained his innocence and said that he and other doctors were only doing their job. "Doctors sign [an oath] to treat people regardless of their race, colour or religion," he said, passionately denying that he would not have treated his "beloved Sunni patients" - or anyone else, like the government claimed....."

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