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Cambridge rights activist denied entry into Bahrain

Traveled to watch trial of physicians who aided rebels

Bahraini border authorities have refused entry to Cambridge human rights activist Richard Sollom, who tried to visit the country to witness the appellate court trials of medics who helped protesters during last spring’s uprising.

Sollom, the deputy director at Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, said in an interview yesterday that he was not given a reason for being turned away after 11 hours of negotiation between Bahraini officials and the US Embassy.

He said that he was holding a valid five-year, multiple-entry visa for entry into the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom, and that the government had previously invited him to visit at any time.

“They would do well to honor their initial invitation to me and to welcome me to the country,’’ he said by telephone from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where he waited to see if Bahrain would reverse its decision.

“Blocking independent human rights observers from the trials of medical professionals casts greater doubt on the fairness of these proceedings,’’ Sollom said in a statement released earlier yesterday. “Bahraini officials continue to say that they are willing to introduce human rights reforms; however, these recent events severely undermine those claims and overshadow their commitment to ensuring that the medics’ trial is fair and open.’’

Sollom traveled to Bahrain to monitor the appellate court trial of 20 medical professionals that cared for protesters during political upheaval in February and March of 2011. All of them have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

The trials involved doctors and nurses who were convicted last year of antistate crimes and received lengthy prison sentences from a special security court that was set up after Bahrain imposed martial law to quell dissent, the Associated Press reported from Dubai.

The government had made a pledge of transparency following an international inquiry into months of antigovernment demonstrations and the ensuing crackdowns. That review accused Bahrain of rights abuses, including denying a fair trial to arrested protesters, AP reported. The agency had not reached Bahraini authorities for comment as of last night.

Sollom spent a week in Bahrain in April 2011, compiling interviews about the government’s abuse of health care workers who were attempting to help protesters. The report, completed with a Texas doctor who served as an adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, included information about other abuses of power by the government during the protests, such as the use of excessive force and the deployment of tear gas inside homes.

The results of Sollom’s trip were published last year in the report “Do No Harm,’’ and he has since blogged about the topic for his organization and written an opinion piece for ForeignPolicy.com.

Sollom said that when he arrived this weekend at the airport in Bahrain, he was required to fill out a document in which he was asked to specify the purpose of his visit. Once border authorities saw that he was visiting for humanitarian reasons, they did not look at his passport or visa, he said, but instead sent him to a holding facility.

In November, independent investigators appointed 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 and issued harsh sentences.

Sollom said he is hoping to gain entry to Bahrain in the coming days. “I think that would be the best thing to rectify the situation,’’ he said. “It is unfortunate that it looks like I will miss the trial; however, I would still like to go back to the country.’’

Jenna Duncan can be reached at jduncan@globe.com.
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