A special tribunal has sentenced 13 Bahraini doctors and nurses who treated anti-government protesters to 15 year prison terms for crimes against the state. Seven medical workers at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s largest public hospital, were given sentences of 5 to 10 years. Human rights groups immediately condemned the sentences. Said Hans Hogrefe, the chief policy officer of Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a statement:
“These are medical professionals who were treating patients during a period of civil unrest, as their ethical duty requires them to do. To imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable.”
The doctors and other medical personnel are accused of “forcefully occupying Salmaniya Medical Centre… possessing unlicensed arms (AK-47s) and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news.” They are also accused of acts with a “terrorist aim” including “inciting hatred to the regime and insulting it” and “destroying public property.” A special tribunal of military prosecutors and both civilian and military judges issued the sentences.
The doctors have denied all the charges, asserting that they were doing their duty as medical professionals and arguing that the government has pressed the charges to punish them for treating protesters:
“There was no sense of rebellion,” Robert Fisk, senior Middle East correspondent for The Independent, who was in Bahrain during the March unrest, told Al Jazeera.
“It was a professional sense of, ‘how do we treat so many people who have been shot and wounded in a short period of time?’”
The daughter of one of the charged medics told Al Jazeera that none of the doctors or nurses attended Thursday’s hearing.
“These cruel sentences present a serious breach of law and is considered to be an attack on the medical profession,” she said in a statement.
Matar Matar, a former opposition MP in Bahrain, condemned the sentences, saying that “a big portion of Bahrainis are insisting to have political reforms” and that the regime is ignoring a major “political problem.”
In a separate case, the same court has sentenced one protester to death and another to life in prison for running down a police officer with a car in Sitra, an oil hub south of Bahrain’s capital of Manama and home to an activist Shiite population. On Wednesday, the security court upheld life sentences for eight prominent political activists and sentenced at least 32 people, including at least two members of the Bahrain national handball team, to 15 year prison terms for illegally protesting.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said that the government of Bahrain is “using the law for repression” and “sending a very negative message to the international community that Bahrain is not moving in the right direction in terms of respecting human rights.”
At least 34 people were killed in the protests in Bahrain that were inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. More than 1,400 have been arrested and as many as 3,600 people fired from their jobs. Bahrain, a country of some 525,000, is a US ally and houses the the US Navy’s fifth fleet — why is the US not taking a stronger stance against Bahrain’s government for abusing the rights of its citizens, including doctors and nurses who were doing their duty by treating the injured?
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