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US rights activist denied entry into Bahrain

Sollom wanted to be present at the trial of doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters

Gulf News

Dubai: An American human rights activist, who intended to observe a protest-related trial in Bahrain, was denied entry into Bahrain on Sunday despite authorities' pledge of transparency.

Richard Sollom, deputy president of the US-based Physicians for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that Bahraini airport authorities gave no reason for their refusal to allow him into the country.

Sollom charged that Bahrain authorities do not want international observers at the trial of doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters, which was scheduled for yesterday. International human rights organisations have harshly criticised the prosecution of the health professionals who were working at the state-run Salmaniya Medical Centre during the massive protests in February and March.

"I am quite stunned. This was the first time a member of an international rights organisation came to Bahrain after authorities promised to respect human rights and told us we can come and see for ourselves," Sollom said in a telephone interview after he landed in Dubai Sunday evening.

"We can see now that not much has changed," he added. Bahraini authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Anti-state crimes

Sollom holds a US passport. He arrived in Bahrain on Sunday morning with a five-year, multiple entry visa. He said he wanted to observe yesterday's retrial of 21 doctors and nurses who were convicted last year of anti-state crimes and received lengthy prison sentences from a special security court.

The government has accused the medics of participating in efforts to overthrow the ruling Al Khalifa family.

In November, independent investigators tasked by Bahrain's king to probe the unrest were highly critical of the special security court that has tried the medics, opposition leaders and activists behind closed doors. A 500-page report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said the court has issued harsh sentences — including life in prison and death penalties — and "denied most defendants elementary fair trial guarantees".

The document also spotlighted abuses at the Salmaniya hospital.