A Bahraini court today acquitted nine of the 20 medics sentenced last year for treating anti-government protesters and reduced the sentences of nine others. Last year’s sentences, handed down on 20 September, ranged from five to 15 years and sparked international outrage.
During the 2011 uprising, the medics — who worked at the state-owned Salmaniya Medical complex in the tiny country’s capital — were targeted by authorities and an aggressive state media campaign. Charges brought against them included “illegal possession of firearms for a terrorist purpose”, “attempting to occupy a public hospital using force” and “attempting to topple the system of government by force”. They had treated those injured by security forces after they cracked down on protests at the Pearl Roundabout.
Talking about the doctors who will be jailed, Brian Dooley of Human Rights First told Reuters: “The truth from today is that medics are to be jailed for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime’s crackdown.”
Fifteen year sentences were upheld for two other doctors who fled the country.
Of the nine medics sentenced, senior orthopaedic surgeon Ali Al-Ekri had his sentence reduced from 15 years to five. The other sentences range from three years to one month.
Nada Dhaif, one of the acquitted doctors, told Index that today’s decision has left her with “mixed feelings” and “in a state of shock”. She also added that acquittal does not necessarily mean “the end” of her case. “They were heroes,” said Dhaif of her colleagues. She said the medics will “continue to fight” the sentences.
The doctor and activist, who now chairs the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation (BRAVO), said that the remaining sentences send a message that the government is still “not acknowledging mistakes” and instead continues to place blame on the medics.
Maryam Alkhawaja, vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), told Index that they “still urge the government of Bahrain to immediately drop all charges levelled against the other medics”, adding that the organisation “welcomed” the reduced sentences and dropped charges.
Alkhawaja, who is also head of the international office for the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), said that the “medics were targeted for carrying out their duties as doctors and witnessing crimes committed by security forces in Bahrain”.
According to Bahraini authorities, four of the nine medics to be jailed have the right to appeal.