Syrian Activists Run Secret Hospitals to Avoid Brutal Gov’t Crackdown

October 25, 2011

In a bid to crush the mass demonstrations that broke out in March, Syrian authorities have turned government-run hospitals and medical staff into instruments of oppression, according to a report released by Amnesty International today.

The group documents numerous cases of protesters being physically assaulted and denied medial care, while security forces disappear injured activists from hospitals and obstruct ambulances picking up the wounded.

As a result, many of the protesters try to avoid the state-run hospitals in the cities of Banias, Homs and Tell Kalakh.

“Given the scale and seriousness of the injuries being sustained by people across the country, it is disturbing to find that many consider it safer to risk not having major wounds treated rather than going to proper medical facilities,” said Cilina Nasser, Amnesty’s Middle East researcher.

Some of the injured are even turning to makeshift secret hospitals set up in safe houses across the country.

Reporter Ramita Navai, who traveled undercover in Syria last month, visited some of these secret hospitals, which will be featured in an upcoming FRONTLINE broadcast.

One doctor told Navai that doctors treating injured protesters have been arrested and sometimes even killed. Living under extreme fear, the activists and doctors go to great lengths to hide the secret facilities.

“We saw a courtyard that a network of activists can turn into an operating theater in 10 minutes,” says Navai.

But these secret field hospitals have trouble getting adequate medical equipment, Amnesty says, especially blood for transfusions, which can only be obtained through the Ministry of Defense-controlled Central Blood Bank.

Syrian activists told Navai, who toured some of the warehouses where these medical supplies are kept, that they smuggle equipment in from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and then move it from one secret warehouse to another in order to stay ahead of security forces.

Today a Syrian opposition group called for international protection from the government’s brutal tactics. Their demands come just a day ahead of the arrival of an Arab delegation of ministers to discuss starting a dialogue between the opposition and the government. The Syrian National Council says there will be no dialogue while the government cracks down on protestors.

Navai spent 15 days in some of the most dangerous parts of the country, following a network of Syrian opposition activists forced into hiding. Syria Undercover airs on Nov. 8.

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