Bahrain's attorney general has ordered a retrial in civilian court for 20 doctors who were sentenced to up to 15 years in jail by a military judge last week.
International condemnation of the doctors’ sentences combined with protests within Bahrain, appear to have persuaded the government to order the retrial.
The doctors were arrested after treating injured anti-government protesters earlier this year. One of the medics, Dr. Nada Dhaif, a mother of two young children who was sentenced to 15 years, says she was forced to confess to her charges.
Currently at her home in Manama after a successful appeal for a civilian retrial, she says charges were motivated by sectarian discrimination.
"My charges were occupying a public building which is the main hospital in Bahrain, the Salmaniya Medical Center; using force and weapons," says Dhaif. "The other serious one was inciting overthrow of the regime in Bahrain. My only crime ... is that I did my job. I obeyed the [medical] oath. I helped people. 99% of the medics, 99% were all Shia. So I think we are being targeted based on our sect."
Dhaif helped set up a medical tent at the Pearl Roundabout in central Bahrain, the focal point of anti-government protests in February and March.
A violent crackdown
Human rights groups estimate over 30 people died and hundreds were injured as security forces cleared protesters from the site. The Bahrain government has accused protestors of illegally occupying the site and plotting to overthrow the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy.
Dhaif says it wasn’t until after the foreign troops arrived from Saudi Arabia to aid the Bahrain government in March that she was arrested.
"They stormed into my house [and] I didn’t know who these people were," she says. "They were wearing civilian clothes, fully armed with weapons and guns and they were all masked. I was pulled out of my bedroom and thrown in a civilian car."
It was shortly thereafter when Dhaif says she was coerced into signing a confession after being kicked, beaten and spit upon. "They threatened me with rape," she says.
Rights groups stay vigilant
Saïd Boumadouha of the London-based human rights group Amnesty International, who followed the military trial closely, questioned the court's judicial integrity. "The president of the court [was] a military officer, the prosecution [was] military prosecution, the place or building belonged to the military judiciary which is part of the Ministry of Defense or BEF, Bahrain Defense Force," he says. "Trials before these courts have been grossly unfair."
Boumadouha says anti-government protestors have been driven out of central Manama but that clashes with security forces continue in surrounding villages. "The protests of March and February have really, really divided and polarized the society between Sunni and Shia which it quite dangerous," he says.
Human rights groups are urging U.S. officials to delay a proposed $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, until Bahrain takes meaningful steps to address human rights violations.