21 Bahraini medics released on appeal pledge to get others freed

An appeals court in Bahrain has reversed the convictions of 21 medics arrested in connection to anti-government protests in 2011. Along with dozens of others, some of whom are still jailed, they helped treat the wounded in the mass unrest.

The physicians, nurses and other hospital workers were convicted last November on misdemeanor charges over their treatment of injured protesters, and for participating in “illegal assemblies.” Some of the accused said their convictions were based on false confessions extracted under torture.

They are now cleared from having to spend three months in prison or paying 200 dinars ($530). Two more similar cases remain open, as the suspects failed to appear in court.

The international medic community hailed the decision as a victory, but said the fight for justice is not yet over.

The kingdom must now demonstrate a renewed commitment to civil and human rights by compensating the health professionals who were wrongly arrested, mistreated, and convicted; restoring all of those wrongly dismissed to their jobs; freeing others still serving prison sentences on similarly spurious convictions; and fairly prosecuting the officials responsible for these outrageous rights violations,” Dr. Deborah D. Ascheim, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) board chair said.

Bahraini doctor Ali al-Akri holds up a Bahrain flag as he is embraced by anti-government protesters upon arriving home in Manama, September 7, 2011 (Reuters / Hamad I Mohammed)

“We need to see the accountability established. And those who are responsible of torturing the doctors and arresting the doctors and putting forth charges and crimes against the doctors and giving them all this pain, they should be brought to justice. This is the priority,” Dr. Nada Dhaif, one of the acquitted doctors told RT.

Dr. Nabeel Tammam, a surgeon at Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, is one of the 21 whose conviction was overturned. “We will continue our pressure until we gain the freedom of all the rest of the medics still in jail,” Dr. Tammam told PHR, “because we believe that they are innocent and that all they did was to perform their humanitarian duty.”

The acquitted medics were among the 82 workers arrested between February and March 2011 for providing medical treatment to protesters. The charges against them went as far as claiming they attempted to overthrow the regime.

In September 2011, 20 of the medics were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. However, in 2012 they were retried by a civilian court. Nine of them had their sentences reduced to 1 to 3 years in jail; two, who remain at large, had their sentences sustained; nine were acquitted after being found innocent.

Anti-government protests have rocked Bahrain since February 2011, as demonstrators call for an end to the Al-Khalifa monarchy, which has ruled the country since 1974. Hundreds have been arrested, and thousands have lost their jobs. Scores of people have also testified that they were tortured during their arrest.

Bahraini human rights activists have unsuccessfully called on the international community to intervene, over what they have called a suppression of the country’s opposition. A common thread of discontent among protesters is over discrimination against the country’s Shiite majority at the hands of the predominantly Sunni government.

Nearly 100 people have been killed since the start of the uprising.

Bahraini mourners hold up a banner that reads in Arabic "The people want to overthrow the regime" during the funeral of Jaffar Jassim al-Taweel in the village of Sitra, south of Manama on March 27, 2013 (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)