Bahraini medics lose court appeal
Bahrain's highest court on Monday upheld jail terms issued against nine medics convicted for their role in last year's pro-democracy uprising, state news agency BNA reported, a decision that could further fuel unrest in the Gulf Arab state.
The controversial case has drawn international criticism of the US-backed Gulf Arab kingdom, which has been in turmoil since the protests erupted in February last year.
BNA quoted Attorney General Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed as saying that Bahrain's Court of Cassation rejected all appeals presented by the defendants and confirmed the previous rulings of prison terms ranging between one month to five years.
In June, the appeals court sentenced Ali al-Ekry, former senior surgeon at the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, to five years in jail.
Al-Ekri was found guilty of "possession and concealment of white weaponry (non-firearms) to serve a terrorist purpose, and for illegal assembly," the statement said.
"We did not get a fair trial...We think we are a card being used by the regime to negotiate with the opposition," he told Reuters by telephone from Manama.
Ibrahim Damastani, who received a three-year jail term, was found guilty of "possession of a white weapon and illegal assembly."
The remaining seven medics, who were convicted of lesser crimes, including illegal assembly and inciting hatred, were given sentences of between one month and one year.
This was the final verdict and no other appeals will be heard. All nine medics have been free on bail since September last year.
The medics were first charged and convicted by a quasi military court specially formed in the aftermath of the government's brutal crackdown of the anti-government protests in March 2011.
Many initially received much harsher sentences of up to 15 years.
Only the two medics who remain at large, Ali Hassan al-Sadadi and Qassim Imran, still face 15-year prison terms since neither appealed the original verdicts. They are believed to be in hiding or to have left the country.
The doctors were released last year after an outcry over allegations of torture during detention.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said Monday's verdict was final with no recourse for further appeal but there might be still a chance for a pardon by the king.
The medics' case highlights the schism in Bahraini society over the protest movement and political reform.
The doctors and nurses say they were victimized for treating protesters and helping bring world attention to deaths caused by security forces.
Washington and rights groups have criticized the June ruling, with Amnesty International saying it was a "dark day for justice."
The verdicts follow an earlier trial at a military court in September, 2011 which sentenced 20 medics to prison terms of between five and 15 years on charges including theft of medical equipment, occupying a hospital and incitement to topple the state.
The ruling Al Khalifa family used martial law and help of Saudi-led Gulf troops, to put down last year's uprising. Thousands were arrested and military trials were instituted during the martial law period.
Washington has called on its ally to talk to the opposition, but unrest continues. Protesters and police clash almost daily.
Seventeen-year-old Ali Hussein Nemat was killed during clashes with police on Friday.
At least 80 people have been killed and thousands detained since the uprising began, according to media sources and human rights organizations.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)