Bahrain says raided MSF centre was illegal

AFP , Thursday 4 Aug 2011

After Doctors Without Borders (MSF) condemned the Bahraini government's raiding of its medical centre, Bahrain's health ministry rebukes the condemnation saying the French medical organisation's presence in Bahrain is illegal

Bahraini authorities said Thursday police had raided a medical centre operated by the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) last week because it was "unlicenced."

MSF issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the July 28 "armed raid," saying police had confiscated medical equipment and detained a volunteer working as a translator and driver.

But the health ministry said on Thursday it was "disappointed by the serious allegations" made by MSF, insisting the organisation was "operating an unlicenced medical centre."

"As MSF was aware, a licence was required to provide health services in Bahrain in the current normal circumstances. The existence of this centre was not known to the relevant Bahraini authorities," the statement said.

It also said the volunteer, Saeed Mahdi, was arrested and charged with "providing health services without a licence and providing false information to the police and the public prosecutor."

Mahdi had called emergency services after the centre failed to provide sufficient treatment for a patient who was seriously injured, but he initially reported the incident as a bystander to hide the fact the wounded were treated by the unlicenced centre, the ministry said.

"While the government of Bahrain routinely welcomes international humanitarian organisations, Bahrain cannot allow any such organisation or individuals involved with such an organisation to breach Bahraini law," it said.

MSF said the patient was provided with first aid by a doctor at the centre, charging the raid constituted a "breach of the sanctity of an office maintained by a neutral medical humanitarian organisation," and claimed it has been open about its operations in the Gulf kingdom.

"Despite only assisting MSF and a patient by calling an ambulance, Saeed Mahdi remains detained. Repeated requests by MSF, his family, and his lawyer to have access to him have been denied," the organisation said.

But the ministry responded by saying Mahdi has not been denied access to his family which it said visited him on Wednesday.

MSF said that since February, when month-long Shiite-led protests broke out, the organisation treated some 200 injured and ill patients who feared being arrested if they sought care at government facilities.

"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.

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