The repression extends beyond political leaders and activists associated with the largely Shiite-led demonstrations that began Feb. 14. Family members and associates of people detained say that the government is targeting Shiites indiscriminately, regardless of their political activity, and with a particular focus on doctors and educators.
“It is retribution,” said one prominent opposition figure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest. “But it is also an ethnic cleansing of top professions.”
One political leader estimated that as many as 1,200 people have been fired in recent weeks. A representative of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, which represents workers from across the economy, including well-paid banking, oil and industrial workers, said his organization had documented 920 politically driven dismissals. He added that the number is probably higher, given that many workers represented by the group are afraid to come forward.
Human rights activists say that teachers have been handcuffed in front of their students, office workers arrested and doctors taken from their homes at night and detained without charges. In many cases, the whereabouts of the detained are not known, and lawyers have no access to them.
A government spokeswoman denied claims of political retribution.
“Any arrests were done because they weren’t following their rightful duties,” said Luma E. Bashmi of Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority.
Physicians for Human Rights, a Cambridge, Mass.-based watchdog group, issued a report Friday alleging “systematic and targeted attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protesters.” The organization has documented 32 medical professionals under arrest.
Friends of one missing doctor, Sadiq Abdulla, a vascular surgeon and transplant specialist, say he was not involved in politics or the protests. Kevin Burnand, an English surgeon who trained Abdulla, described him as apolitical.
“Sadiq has been persecuted because he has treated (as any doctor would) injured patients, many of whom happened to be protesters,” said Burnand, in an e-mail.
Local political observers report that the medical profession has been particularly hard hit, creating a climate of fear among both doctors and patients. Military checkpoints and soldiers at the country’s main hospital have terrified staff and patients, some of who have been tortured, according to Richard Sollom, author of the Physicians for Human Rights report. One local activist said that he was shuttling Western doctors between private homes as they attempted to reach patients too scared to seek treatment in public facilities.