Bahrain protesters see main hospital as ‘dangerous place’ under military rule

AL KHARJIYA, Bahrain — It was just after midnight when armed men in military uniforms came to the hospital bed of Ali Mansour Abdel-Karim Nasser, who was injured by pellets fired during a clash with riot police. He said what came next was worse: he was bound, beaten and mocked in the hallway of Bahrain’s main state-run hospital.

“I did not talk. I did not argue with them. I just cried,” he told The Associated Press in his mostly Shiite village, Al Kharjiya, about 20 miles (15 kilometres) from the capital Manama.

The Salmaniya medical complex — now under military rule — appears to be one of the last main targets of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers trying to crush a pro-democracy uprising by the country’s Shiite majority. The hospital treated hundreds of injured demonstrators and its morgue held some of the dead since the revolt began last month in the strategically important Gulf country, the home of U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

For many Shiites, the sprawling complex — sitting between fancy shopping malls and Western-style cafes in central Manama — is as much a symbol of the rebellion as the city’s Pearl Square, which protesters occupied for a month. Authorities regained control last week and destroyed its landmark 300-foot (90-meter) pearl monument to wipe out what Bahrain’s foreign minister called “bad memories.”

The medical complex is now surrounded by military checkpoints, its outside walls patrolled by commando-style troops in army green coveralls and black ski masks. Soldiers and policemen are driving ambulances and interrogating and detaining doctors and patients, according to Bahrain’s doctors’ union and local media reports.

“They came with guns and they said, ‘What’s wrong with you, why are you here?’ I told them I was shot and I showed them my legs,” said Nasser, whose legs and abdomen were peppered with wounds from pellets shot during a protest in a village on Sitra island on Tuesday.

“They cursed at me, ripped out the IV, pushed me off the bed and started kicking me,” Nasser told the AP on Saturday in Al Kharjiya, one of six Shiite villages on Sitra, the centre of Bahrain’s oil industry southwest of Manama.

Nasser said the six soldiers — whose faces were covered with black ski masks — pulled him to the hallway and tied his hands behind the back. He said at least 12 other patients were abused in a similar way.

When the beatings stopped, Nasser said the soldiers untied his hands and said: “Shiite dogs, go to your rooms. And let Iran help you now” — a reference to Shiite powerhouse Iran, which has denounced the crackdown by Bahraini forces aided by more than 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.

The Gulf leaders have rallied behind Bahrain’s Sunni dynasty to try to snuff out further revolts in the region, saying gains by Bahrain’s Shiites could give Iran a pathway for greater influence in the Gulf.

Nasser said he was beaten several more times and begged to be released on Friday.

“I was not safe there,” Nasser said. “The hospital is a dangerous place because the doctors are not in charge, the military is. The doctors are scared, apologizing to us, saying sorry, but there is not much we can do for you now.”

Neither Nasser’s story nor the conditions inside the hospital could be independently confirmed. Authorities have blocked journalists from entering the medical complex.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters Friday he was not aware of the hospital siege. He said Salmaniya hospital became a “source of misinformation” and was now “liberated.”

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