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Bahrain should quash medics' convictions

The convictions of nine health professionals sentenced to prison terms for their role in last year’s pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain must be quashed, Amnesty International has said, responding to a decision earlier today by the country’s Court of Cassation to reject appeals by the doctors and nurses against their convictions.

Today’s decision by a court in the capital Manama upheld the medics’ sentences, which ranged from five years to one month in prison, reduced in June by an appeal court from five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Sentences were upheld against Ali 'Esa Mansoor al'Ekri (five years), Ebrahim Abdullah Ebrahim al-Dumistani (three years), Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif (one year), Sa'eed Mothaher Habib al Samahiji (one year), Mahmood Ashghar 'Abdulwahab (six months), Dhia Ibrahim Ja'far (two months), Bassim Ahmed 'Ali Dhaif (one month), Nader Mohammed Hassan Dewani (one month) and Abdulkhaleq 'Ali Hussain al-'Oraibi (one month).

The nine are currently not in detention, but six of them who have not completed their sentences face being sent back to prison at any time. The six, who have been sentenced to between two months and five years, would be prisoners of conscience if they are jailed, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Although the nine were charged with a variety of serious offences, according to Amnesty’s research, none of them used or advocated violence. The organisation believes the real reason why the medics were arrested and tried is because they publicly denounced the excessive force used against protesters during pro-reform demonstrations last year in interviews with international media.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“With today’s verdict, the Bahraini government has shown once more it is not serious about human rights and accountability for past violations.

“The convictions against these doctors and nurses must be quashed immediately and all charges against them relating to their role in last year’s pro-reform demonstrations must be dropped.

“The fact that all these convictions have been upheld while prisoners of conscience remain behind bars highlights the lack of real commitment from the Bahraini government to fully meet the promises made less than two weeks ago before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.”

Today’s decision by the Court of Cassation comes only days after a defence lawyers’ request for the release of their client - prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab - was rejected and after another human rights activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, was sentenced to two months in prison for tearing up a picture of the King of Bahrain. They are both prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

On 19 September Bahrain’s government accepted more than 140 out of the 176 recommendations stemming from the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The recommendations included measures aimed at releasing prisoners of conscience, bolstering fair trial guarantees and investigating human rights violations committed during and after last year’s massive pro-reform protests.

Meanwhile, a trial has begun today of two police officers accused of mistreating some of the doctors and nurses while they were detained in 2011. The defendants are believed to be on trial for mistreating the medics, but it is unclear whether they have been charged with subjecting them to torture. The medics and their lawyers did not receive any official notification about that trial, learning of it through other sources. The government had previously announced that formal charges had been brought against another five police officers in relation to the case, however it is unclear when their trial will start. An investigation into the allegations of torture is believed to have been carried out, but no findings are known to have been made public.

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