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(New York) – Amnesty International today condemned guilty verdicts and prison sentences against doctors and health professionals in Bahrain, saying the charges that they attempted to topple the government during protests earlier this year were “ludicrous.” The organization said the real reason they were tried was because they denounced the government’s savage crackdown on protesters in interviews with journalists.
At a seven-minute court session, the president of the military-run National Safety Court of First Instance read the names of the 20 defendants, announced guilty verdicts and imposed prison sentences of up to 15 years.
“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 Program. “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.”
“We’ve repeatedly said that Bahraini authorities should never have used military courts to prosecute ordinary civilians, including doctors, teachers and human rights activists.”
Bahraini authorities accused the group of using Manama’s Salamaniya Medical Complex, where they worked, as a “control center” for pro-reform protests at the nearby GCC Roundabout (formerly Pearl Roundabout), in February and March. 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.
Today’s court session was attended by several lawyers for the medics, as well as observers from foreign embassies and Bahraini human rights NGOs. The defendants, who were previously released on bail, and their families were not present to hear the verdict.
A lawyer for the health workers has said the group will appeal the verdict next Sunday before the High Court of Appeal, in Bahrain’s civilian justice system.
Other military trials in Bahrain this week have upheld guilty verdicts and harsh jail terms – including life sentences – for human rights activists and teachers on charges related to the protests earlier this year.
“The ruling government clearly wants to send a message that anybody perceived as advocating political reforms will be dealt with severely,” said Luther.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.