“People are getting hurt all the time,” said a young protester who was hit in the face with birdshot and risks losing sight in his left eye. He wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. “I didn’t want to go (to hospital) because I was afraid,” he admitted. “Nobody is safe in this country.”
But the underground medics say homemade emergency rooms can only do so much. According to them, at least four Bahrainis have died because they refused to get adequate treatment at Salmaniya, the only full-service public health facility in the country, and they say if the current situation persists, the death toll will certainly rise.
“This is a really serious issue in Bahrain, which isn’t getting the type of media attention that it deserves,” says Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights. The group has been highly critical of what it calls the “militarization of Bahrain’s public health system”.
According to human rights groups, soldiers interrogate everyone who enters Salmaniya as part of their efforts to identify injured protesters. Once discovered, the groups claim, protesters are sometimes taken to secret locations and tortured. In the eyes of the opposition, Salmaniya is more a military base than a hospital.
Shiite Muslims make up the majority of opposition supporters in Bahrain. In February 2011, fueled by a belief that they are treated like second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni minority, they took to the streets to demand more rights and political reform. The Pearl Roundabout in Manama became the focal point of the demonstrations, but after authorities cordoned off the site, the rallies shifted to Salmaniya, where participants demanded the downfall of the regime and prevented some Sunni patients from getting treatment. A crackdown by security forces ensued, as did growing sectarianism.