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Bahrain medics jailed over Arab Spring protests acquitted, sentences reduced

Jailing of doctors and nurses who treated protesters was highly criticised by rights groups.

Dr Fatima Haji (second from left) hugs another woman after hearing of the judge's verdict today.
Dr Fatima Haji (second from left) hugs another woman after hearing of the judge's verdict today.
Image: AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

BAHRAIN’S APPEALS court has acquitted nine medics and cut the jail terms of nine others for their role in anti-regime protests last year, in a case which drew widespread criticism from rights groups.

The 20 doctors and nurses in the case worked at Manama’s Salmaniya Medical complex, stormed by security forces after a crackdown on a protest encampment at the capital’s nearby Pearl Square in March 2011.

Two medics of the group detained in the crackdown and who remain at large did not appeal.

Those who were handed a sentence of one year in prison or less have already served their terms and are not expected to be arrested, according to their defence lawyers.

Only consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ali Alekri, whose initial 15-year jail term was cut to five years, and Ibrahim al-Damstani, the Bahraini Nursing Society secretary general, sentenced to three years, would be left with time to serve.

Rula al-Saffar, who heads the society and had faced 15 years in jail, was among those acquitted, judicial sources said.

They have all been released since September and did not appear in court today. Authorities have not yet issued arrest warrants for Damstani and Alekri, who described the verdicts as “political.”

Charges

The medics faced a plethora of charges, the most serious of which was occupying the vital medical centre and possessing weapons while denying Sunni Muslims access to the hospital as Shiite demonstrators camped in the car park.

They were handed sentences of between five and 15 years by a semi-military tribunal last September but retried in civil court after the public prosecutor dismissed confessions allegedly extracted under torture.

The doctors also stood accused of spreading false news – particularly concerning the condition of wounded protesters – illegal acquisition of medicines and medical facilities, and of participating in demonstrations.

Claims of torture against scores of Shiite detainees were upheld in November by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a panel tasked by King Hamad with probing the crackdown after an international outcry over alleged abuses.

King Hamad said he was “dismayed” by the findings of the report concerning the use of torture and pledged reforms.

The medics had insisted they were innocent. The commission’s report stated charges that they inflated the number of protesters injured were unfounded, noting hospital records showed hundreds were admitted in mid-February.

Many of the 20 medics alleged they were tortured in prison.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said “no independent investigation into their allegations of torture is known to have been made public and no officer responsible for their torture has been brought to justice.”

“Amnesty International believes that if convicted and imprisoned, the 20 would be prisoners of conscience,” said the London-based watchdog.

- (c) AFP, 2012

READ: Irish nurses and midwives join vigil for Bahrain medics >

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