An appeals court has partially overturned the harsh sentences given to 20 Bahraini medics, who have been accused of serious crimes including what amounted to treason against the monarchy for treating injured protesters in the 2011 pro-democracy uprising. The doctors, nurses and other medical staff worked at the capital Manama’s main Salmaniya Medical Complex. They were originally tried by a military court that sentenced them five to fifteen years in prison on charges including weapons possession, inciting sectarian anger and hatred against the regime, destroying public property and “forcefully occupying” the hospital.
In October, a civilian court began a retrial of the medics, who have consistently denied all the charges and contended that they were simply doing their jobs — treating the injured.
Nine of the medics were acquitted of the charges against them. Among them were Rula al-Saffar, the head of Bahrain’s nursing society, who had originally been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Al-Saffar has described being electrocuted and threatened with rape while imprisoned.
Ali al-Ekri, formerly the senior medic at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, was sentenced to five years in prison. Another doctor received a three-year-prison term and the rest sentences of between one month and one year.
Two of the medics did not appeal their five-to-fifteen year sentences as they have either gone into hiding or fled the country.
Many of the doctors and nurses have already served jail time. They were only bailed and released after saying they had been tortured while in custody.
As Caroline Hawley comments in the BBC, the arrests and conviction of the doctors and nurses has been “extremely controversial”:
One of the doctors whose conviction was quashed told the BBC there had been “zero evidence against us from the start” and that the entire case was “pure politics”.
A defence lawyer said that, while some of the medics may have violated professional ethics by taking part in protests, none had committed a crime and the only fair outcome would have been for all the convictions to have been quashed.
But such a ruling would have embarrassed Bahraini authorities.
Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, described the trial, convictions and prison sentences as a “travesty of justice.” The international community has thoroughly condemned the convictions as have the office of United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the UN human rights office and Human Rights Watch, which has charged that at least some of the medics have been tortured.
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