Manama, Bahrain – A Bahraini appeals court has upheld convictions for nine medics accused of helping to stage anti-government protests last year. The men, who were rounded up Tuesday, will serve prison time that ranges from one month to five years, reports CNN.
However, the decision of the court has caused consternation amongst human rights groups who say the accused doctors were simply treating injured demonstrators. Many have suggested the medics are victims of a government crackdown that came about after protests in February 2011.
Prosecutors accused the doctors, who work at the Salmaniya Medical Center in the capital Manama, of “transforming the hospital to a place of illegal gatherings and strikes, in violation of laws” as the protests continued.
Yet, that isn’t a view shared by Brian Dooley of the US-based organization Human Rights First. He told CNN:
“These medics are going to prison for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime’s crackdown. This isn’t the kind of progress that the kingdom keeps promising the world is under way.”
Anti-government protests hit Bahrain in early 2011 and were directly inspired by similar demonstrations and uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet while demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt brought about regime change, the Bahrain protests were oppressed by a severe government crackdown, one that was supported with troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The government’s controversial response led to an independent commission as demanded by Bahrain’s king. In November 2011, Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry produced a critical report of authorities and concluded that the police had used excessive force as well as torture. The report highlighted how poorly many arrested protesters were treated; detainees were subjected to beatings with metal pipes and threats of rape and electrocution.
Amongst other measures, the report suggested that the island state’s law required reforms and recommended better training of security forces.