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article imageOp-Ed: Bahrain court upholds conviction of medics

By Ken Hanly     Oct 1, 2012 in Politics
Manama - Nine medics who were arrested last year during pro-democracy protests have lost their final appeal and now face time in jail. The nine are part of a group of 20 convicted by a military court in 2011, a conviction upheld by a civilian tribunal in June.
Dr. Ali al-Ekry, formerly the senior doctor at Sallmaniya Medical Complex in Bahrain, was given the longest sentence. five years. He was convicted of "possession and concealment" of weapons and also "illegal assembly".
In speaking to Al Jazeera about the decision al-Ekry noted that it is still unclear if the doctors will be sent to prison immediately. The medics' trial has been roundly criticized internationally and the government may be reluctant to implement the verdict. Dr. al-Ekry had formerly been regarded as a hero in Bahrain for his volunteer work helping those in Gaza during the Israeli incursion into the strip. However, helping injured protesters in Bahrain and supporting the protests, made him a criminal.
The Bahrain government set up a commission into the protests against the regime. The report released this spring of the Independent Commission of Inquiry contained more than two dozen recommendations for the government and was sharply critical of the government. Although the government claims it has implemented 90% of the recommendations, critics claim that the true figure is around 10%.
Eight other doctors were also sentenced along with al-Ekry.. Terms ranged from one month to three years. Though the nine medics were free on bail for a year, they faced a travel ban.
Last June nine doctors and nurses had their original verdicts overturned by an appeals court. Those medics included Rula al-Saffar who is the head of the Bahrain nursing society. Originally, she was sentenced to 15 years! That court also dismissed charges that the doctors "occupied" the hospital and had weapons. However, a government spokesperson claimed that medics "took over" the ground floor of the hospital a claim supported by the Independent Commission.
While the government claims that the medics did not provide enough medical attention to patients, and denied some expatriates health care, the commission's report was not nearly as critical. The report noted that they found only one example of a patient who alleged not receiving medical care and found that the situation was chaotic so that access to the facility was often difficult.
The government did not mention that the medics were also tortured in custody according to the Independent Commission. Rights groups have argued that all of the convictions should be overturned. Some of the evidence provided to the commission seems to have been manufactured.
A Pakistani witness said he heard two doctors discussing a plan to hold Asian workers as hostages in the hospital. When asked how he could understand the conversation, the Pakistani said that the doctors were speaking Urdu. Neither doctor speaks or understands Urdu.
As the appended video shows there still is the need for improvement in the human rights situation in Bahrain. In spite of this the U.S. has resumed arms shipments to Bahrain. Bahrain is headquarters for the U.S. fifth fleet. Although King Khalifa has introduced some democratic reforms the country is still run by the royal family for the most part.
The government blames the protests on Iran, since Iran supports the demands for reform made by the Shia majority in Bahrain. The ruling family and the government are composed primarily of minority Sunnis. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help put down the protests and maintain security.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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