News / Middle East

Bahrain Court Decision on Medics Sparks Outcry

Bahrain's highest court this week upheld the sentences against nine medics accused of aiding opposition protesters during demonstrations last year in the capital, Manama. The case has drawn international criticism of the Gulf kingdom, where the Shia majority continues to protest against the Sunni rulers.

Bahraini authorities arrested the nine medics in Manama at the height of last year's protests as uprisings swept across the Arab world.

Their convictions include theft of medical equipment, occupying a hospital and incitement to topple the state.

Dr. Nada Dhaif was among 20 medics arrested, but her conviction was quashed by an appeals court in June.

"These charges, they absolutely have no base and no proof at all," said Dhaif.  "These are all political verdicts against the doctors and medics in Bahrain in order to punish them for treating the patients."

All the medics are from Bahrain's Shia majority. Shia protesters are demanding greater freedom and equality from the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy.

Covadonga de la Campa of Amnesty International called the court's decision outrageous.

"They have no more recourse to appeal and if their sentences are implemented they will be sent back to prison," said De la Campa.  "If they are sent back to prison we would consider them to be prisoners of conscience."

Despite the government crackdown, the protests continue on an almost daily basis.

Jane Kinninmont is an expert on Bahrain at the London policy institute Chatham House.

"The opposition says that there are over 1,000 political prisoners," said Kinninmont.  "The government for its part says that there is not a single one. One of the problems is that one year on from the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry, there is very little in the way of objective, reliable sources of information that are believed by both sides."

That inquiry was meant to answer accusations of police brutality and torture against the protesters. Seven officers are being put on trial.  But medic Nada Dhaif believes it is just for show.

"They attend the trials wearing their uniforms," added Dhaif.  "They're not even suspended. Whatever the government is promoting that they're doing reforms and they are in the process of putting the torturers and the perpetrators in front of justice, it's not real."

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad bin Muhammad Al Khalifa did not mention the protests directly, instead accusing Iran of meddling in his country's affairs.

Analyst Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House says the protests in Bahrain rarely make the headlines in the West.

"I think it's partly an issue of media access, but it is also something that's quite uncomfortable for Western politicians who are trying to draw a distinction between their allies and the human rights abusers of the Arab world," Kinninmont noted.  

In further protests Saturday, police shot dead a 17-year-old boy during what the opposition claims was a peaceful rally. The interior ministry says the teenager was throwing firebombs.   Nineteen months after protesters took to the streets, Bahrain's uprising shows few signs of dying down.

List of convicted medics on Doctors in Chains.org.

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