x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Bahrain court cuts sentences for medics who treated protesters

Court reduces sentences for nine medics and acquits another nine, but rights groups say the case was politically-motivated and should have been thrown out due to the use of torture.

MANAMA // A Bahrain court reduced sentences yesterday against nine medics for their role in last year's anti-government protests and acquitted nine, but rights groups said the case was politically-motivated and should have been thrown out due to the use of torture.

In September, a military court sentenced the medics to terms of between 5 and 15 years on charges including occupying a hospital, incitement to topple the monarchy and arms possession.

In revising the sentences, a court yesterday gave Ali Al Ekry, a senior orthopaedic surgeon who worked at the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, a five-year sentence and Ibrahim Al Dimistani three years. Seven others were handed sentences ranging from one month to one year.

"This is an unjust ruling, they are innocent. They should be trying the authorities, not these doctors," said Tewfik Dhaif, 53, the uncle of two of the men sentenced.

The verdicts followed an earlier trial in military court that gave jail terms of 15 years to two medics. Those defendants are believed to have left the country and their case was then transferred to civilian court for a retrial, though the original verdicts still stood.

The trial of the 20 medics has drawn international criticism.

Bahrain suppressed the protest movement, which was led by the Shiite majority, that erupted last year with sweeping arrests, demolition of mosques and the dismissal of thousands from their jobs.

The doctors, who were released last year after an outcry over allegations of torture during detention, were not present during the brief court session.

"This is a baseless political verdict. It's a political punishment to keep the loyalists happy by keeping a few of us guilty," Ali Al Ekry said.

Court officials said the tribunal had rejected the charge of occupying the Salmaniya hospital and possession of weapons.

They said Ekry and Dimistani were guilty of inciting hatred and calling for the overthrow of Bahrain's rulers, as well as making statements to media from inside the hospital. The others were found guilty of incitement to hatred and making statements.

Critics said the charges were reprisals for treating injured protesters, who were camped at a central square in Manama for a month, after attempts by security forces to disperse them in February and March. The doctors denied the charges.

Thirty-five people died during the demonstrations, mainly protesters, and hundreds were wounded.

International rights groups criticised yesterday's verdict.

The Bahrain government says it has taken steps to address the brutality of security forces in dealing with protesters by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations to monitor abuses.