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Amnesty slams ‘repression’ at Syrian hospitals

Video by Kyle G. Brown

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-10-27

Rights group Amnesty International has criticised the Syrian government for "creating a climate of fear" at hospitals, in the wake of reports of mistreatment of wounded anti-government protesters.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has turned hospitals and medical staff into “instruments of repression”, a report released by Amnesty International revealed this week. The London-based human rights group accused Syrian authorities of targeting patients and caregivers, and creating a climate of fear in medical establishments.

Patients are “liable to be arrested, detained incommunicado and subjected to torture or other ill-treatment,” at both public and private hospitals, the rights watchdog said in a 39-page report released on Tuesday.

“The Syrian government will argue that we can not prove what we say [in the report] because we are do not work inside the country,” said Amnesty International’s Cilini Nasser recalling Damascus’s constant refusal to allow NGO’s to enter Syria.

“However, we have collected numerous testimonies from the injured,” Nasser told FRANCE 24. “They all tell the same story of verbal and physical abuse, not only from the military, but also from the staff in state-run hospitals: nurses, doctors, and even receptionists.”

Operating for intelligence services

“The phenomenon is not new,” said the Lebanon-based FRANCE 24 correspondent Selim El Meddeb, who has reported on similar accounts from Syrian refugees.

“For several months, public hospitals have been under the control of the Mukhabarat - the regime’s intelligence agency," he explained. “Patients who go to public hospitals risk disappearing or being tortured and even killed.”

In early September, the BBC news agency broadcast an interview with Danny Abdul Dayem, a young man of dual Syrian-British nationality, who chose not to treat a gunshot wound at a hospital for fear of being detained. “The security forces would actually come to the hospital… they shoot at night and wait [for injured at the hospital] in the morning,” Dayem said.

According to Amnesty International’s Nasser, Syria’s health ministry has remained silent on the issue, and to her knowledge, has not taken any action against medical staff suspected of patient abuse.

However, the report said it was aware of two disciplinary actions against staff for alleged mistreatment of wounded patients, both in the military hospital in the central city of Homs.

A health risk

The fear of state-run hospitals has driven many injured to seek treatment in private clinics or in makeshift field hospitals that have been set up in certain communities, the report said.

Doctors at the National Hospital in Homs, the hotbed of anti-Bashar protests, told Amnesty that admissions for gunshot wounds had slumped since May, despite the rising death toll on the streets.

The report also calls attention to the alleged arrest and torture of health workers. “Some have been detained for treating people injured during the unrest without reporting them to the authorities, others because of their participation in anti-government demonstrations or because they are suspected of providing information about human rights violations,” it detailed.

Speaking under condition of anonymity, one Syrian activist told FRANCE 24 this week that during crackdowns and police roundups local doctors, pharmacists, and nurses are the first to be arrested, “just because their job is to save people.”

The report also slammed a climate at hospitals in which medical staff are forced to choose between practising their profession along ethical health standards and their own personal safety.

The United Nations estimates that around 3,000 people have been killed since the unrest began in Syria in March.

Date created : 2011-10-26

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