x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Jailed Bahrain doctors and nurses to be given retrials after outcry

A civilian court retrial has been ordered for 20 medical personnel sentenced to long prison terms as alleged backers of anti-government protests.

MANAMA // Bahrain's attorney general has ordered a civilian court retrial for 20 medical personnel sentenced to long prison terms as alleged backers of anti-government protests.

A statement late yesterday by Bahrain's government apparently nullified the verdicts earlier this week from a special security court against the doctors and nurses, who received sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

The case brought an outcry from rights groups and raised questions from the UN secretary general.

Bahrain has been gripped by nearly eight months of unrest by Shiite-led protests seeking greater rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy.

"In today's decision, Dr Ali Al Boainain, the attorney general, stated that the department of public prosecution has studied the judgment rendered by the national safety court on September 28 and determined that the cases should be retried in the civilian courts," a statement said.

In an apparent climbdown from the internationally criticised verdicts, the public prosecutor said the medics should not be punished for their political views and that their cases would start from scratch.

"No doctors or other medical personnel may be punished by reason of the fulfilment of their humanitarian duties or their political views," he said in the statement.

The medics all worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, which was stormed by security forces in March after they drove protesters out of the nearby Pearl Square. They included 13 doctors, one dentist, nurses and paramedics.

Shiite Muslims represent about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens, but claim they face discrimination such as being blocked from high-level political and military posts.

Protesters demand the 200-year-old ruling Sunni dynasty give up its hold on power and allow a freely elected government.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse