Court hands down 15-year jail sentences to doctors and nurses who treated protestors

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The Independent Online

Bahrain's military court has sentenced 20 doctors, nurses and paramedics who treated protesters injured during pro-democracy rallies to up to 15 years in prison. The defendants say they were tortured during interrogation to extract false confessions.

The medics, in addition to plotting a revolution, "were charged with the possession of weapons and ammunition, forcefully taking over control of Salmaniya hospital and its personnel, stealing medical equipment, and fabricating stories to disturb public security," according to the country's Information Affairs Authority.

The unlikely revolutionaries include Rola al-Saffar, the head of Bahrain's nurses' society, and Ali al-Iqri, a distinguished surgeon who was arrested in an operating theatre on 17 March. None of the defendants were in court to hear the sentences read out, and the hearing was attended only by their lawyers and relatives. Authorities said that 13 medical professionals had been sentenced to 15 years in prison, two to ten years, and five to five years.

They worked in Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital Manama and treated those injured in fighting between protesters and security forces after pro-democracy rallies started on 14 February. After a crackdown in mid-March, doctors and nurses were accused of planning an armed insurrection in league with Iran.

Defendants say that the military judges refuse to listen to allegations that they had been tortured.

Human-rights groups described the sentences as "a travesty of justice". Philip Luther, of Amnesty International, said: "These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives."

The detained medics say they were beaten, hooded, and deprived of sleep to force them to say they had deliberately let patients die, and had exaggerated injuries by pouring blood over the injured.

The harsh sentences, handed down by a military judge, are likely to anger Bahrain's Shia majority and torpedo hopes of dialogue between them and the reigning Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty.

The sentences may be a sign that hardliners in the royal family have taken control. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has made a number of conciliatory statements which have been followed by intensified repression.

In a separate case, the military court passed a death sentence on a man found guilty of killing a policeman by running him over in Sitra district during the demonstrations.