x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bahraini doctors call for neutral trial

Shiite doctors on bail in Bahrain pending retrial for their role in pro-democracy protests demanded a neutral hearing as they spoke of being subjected to months of torture.

MANAMA // Shiite doctors on bail in Bahrain pending retrial for their role in pro-democracy protests demanded a neutral hearing as they spoke of being subjected to months of torture.

"I can't talk," sobbed a consultant paediatrician, Nader Dawani, who said he was made to stand for prolonged periods of time, while being beaten, mainly by a female officer.

"She was the harshest. She used to hit me with a hose and wooden canes, many of which broke on my back," said the 54-year-old man, who said he was forced to stand for seven days.

Dr Dawani is one of several medics arrested after security forces crushed a Shiite-led uprising inspired by Arab Spring protests that toppled the rulers of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and are threatening Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad.

They face a plethora of charges, the most serious of which is occupying the Salmaniya Medical Centre and possessing weapons, while denying access to the hospital to Sunnis as Shiite demonstrators camped in the complex's car park.

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

Thirteen were convicted by a military court on September 29 and jailed for five to 10 years. But before the verdict was handed down, they had already been released and now face retrial before a civil appeals court. An independent inquiry says many dissidents were tortured.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa demanded the inquiry after allegations in the media and by activists of abuses by security forces against protesters demanding democratic reform.

King Hamad said he was "dismayed" by the findings of the report, which said torture had occurred, and pledged reforms.

"We do not tolerate the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners," he said.

Many Shiite medics who were not arrested, such as the consultant neurosurgeon Taha Al Derazi, lost their jobs for being photographed at a demonstration.

The medics insist they are innocent. The commission's report said the charges that they inflated the number of protesters injured were unfounded and that hundreds were admitted during mid-February.

"All my statements to media were related to the wounded," said the consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ali Alekri, insisting he was not involved in politics and only led demonstrations against the then health minister who was later sacked.

"Our slogans were clear: sack the minister and his administration for failing to protect medics, halting ambulance movement when needed and giving false information on numbers of casualties. We never called for the fall of the regime," he said. Dr Alekri said the medics needed a neutral international body to judge them.

"We don't trust the Bahraini judicial system," he said.

The health workers say it was speaking out that put them in trouble.

"We are witnesses to the crimes of the regime," said Dr Dawani, who, like most of his sentenced colleagues, and other foreign and Sunni medics, appear on video treating casualties at the accident and emergency department of a hospital.

Rula Al Saffar, the head of the Bahraini Nursing Society, who faces 15 years in jail, said the authorities wanted to humiliate the Shiite elite.

"We are the elite of Bahrain ... They want to tell the well-off Shiite families that they can humiliate them," said Mrs Al Saffar, 49.

Mainly Shiite Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni.