Bahrain: Doctors receive long prison sentences

October 4, 2011

A military court in Manama, Bahrain, found a group of doctors and other health workers guilty of attempting to topple the government during protests earlier this year, in what Amnesty International said was a travesty of justice.

According to Amnesty, the president of the National Safety Court of First Instance only needed seven minutes to read the names of the 20 defendants, announce them guilty and impose prison sentences of up to 15 years. 

Ludicrous charges

Bahraini authorities have accused the group of using Manama’s Salamaniya Medical Complex, where they worked, as a ‘control centre’ for pro-reform protests in February and March 2011. The defendants deny all the charges, which include incitement to hatred of the regime, occupying the hospital by force, stealing medicines and stockpiling arms at the hospital.

“These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives amid very trying circumstances,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “It appears that the real reason for targeting these health workers was the fact that they denounced the government crackdown on protesters in interviews to international media.” A lawyer for the health workers has said the group will appeal the verdict before the High Court of Appeal, in Bahrain’s civilian justice system.

The World Medical Association (WMA) has strongly condemned the polically-motivated trial. Its President, Dr. Wonchat Subhachaturas said: “The disproportionate nature of the sentences handed down in this case after the court’s seven minute hearing is a disgrace and must be overturned. Physicians and health workers must be protected in these circumstances and not condemned.” Among other National Medical Associations, the Royal Dutch Medical Assocation (KNMG) wrote a letter to the authorities of Bahrain as well as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressing that: “an independent investigation of the court procedure and the treatment of the physicians is urgently required. The global interest of protection of medical professionals while doing their work independently and impartially is at stake here.”

Horror film

Before she was sentenced to prison, one of the doctors based at Salmaniya hospital wrote a blog about her arrest:

“In April, […] I was taken from my house by more than 30 masked men with guns in front of my son, whom I had to leave alone. I was physically and emotionally abused, blindfolded and handcuffed. They beat me – with their hands and legs, with a hose, and gave me electric shocks. They threatened to rape me. They threatened to kill me so that I would confess to false accusations. I was sexually harassed and humiliated. I felt lonely, scared and ashamed. It felt like a nightmare that was happening over and over again. All the time I was worried about who was feeding my son and taking care of him. After 22 days in prison they called me and they told me I was going to be released on bail. […] 

The first weeks after my release were like a horror film. I felt that someone could come stab me in the back at any time. As soon as the sun set every day I started to cry and couldn’t sleep until the morning as I was scared I could be arrested again. Then the horror of the military courts started. For the first few hearings we were in shock and couldn’t believe that the government was still insisting on going ahead with this drama and accusing us of totally unbelievable charges. At the final hearing on 29 September they will sentence us. I believe that they know we are innocent but they will sentence us anyway. It is a political act so that others will get the message.”

Sources: Amnesty International press release, 29 September 2011 and KNMG news releasse, 4 October 2011 (Dutch only)