Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:14 PM EDT, 21 March 2012
BAHRAIN – On Tuesday, 20 March 2012, the Bahraini attorney general concluded his summation in the government’s case against the medics who defied an injunction against treating wounded Arab Spring protesters last year.
Although, the prosecutor initially suggested that the charges against the 20 medics would be drop, they changed course last week with an announcement that the government decided to pursue charges against 5 of the healthcare workers. The remaining 15 cases would be transferred from a military to an as yet unspecified professional tribunal.
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, the justice minister, directed the public prosecutor to release a statement clarifying the government’s intent to prosecute the defendants for violating an injunction against treating wounded protesters. The majority of the wounded were Shi'a, which leads some observers to believe that these trials may be motivated by sectarian agendas.
The predominantly Sunni government did not provide an explanation for the choice to pursue the indictments and trials against the medical workers, despite initial claims that they would bring no charges against the doctors. It is also unclear what methodology drove the decision to try five medics while referring the remaining cases to a tribunal.
The Bahraini government’s decision to prosecute these doctors drew international condemnation, and human rights groups were vociferous in their assertion that the medical workers were being punished simply because they helped civilians during the bloody crackdown by state security forces during the anti-government demonstrations.
Last September, the military court sentenced each of the doctors to 15-year jail terms for the crimes of sedition, incitement to overthrow the government, stockpiling weapons, and taking hostages. These charges arose out of an incident when 20 doctors and other medical staff refused to stop treating the injured protesters and subsequently barricaded themselves in Salmaniya hospital.
After the militia agreed to let them leave, the medics disbanded peacefully and were of the understanding that the matter was concluded. However, they were subsequently charged and their cases referred to a military court. In the face of worldwide criticism, their cases were moved to a civil court where the charges were dismissed. The presiding judge in the current case provided no explanation for why the initial charges were never dropped, nor why the defendants had not been informed of their continued indictments.
Bahrain is a pivotal ally to the United States, hosting the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, providing an observation point for America in the Middle East, and aiding its efforts to monitor Iran and its nuclear program. Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary of state, said last month that Bahrain should seek "alternatives to criminal prosecution" in the case.
- Bahrain: Protests Press Cause Of Arab Spring's Forgotten Revolution (ibtimes.com)
- Bahrain king says changes have been made since crackdown (cnn.com)
- Bahraini Al Khalifa forces Martyred another Young Shia Protester (jafrianews.com)
- Mass protest near Bahrain capital (bbc.co.uk)
- Tens of thousands protest for democracy in Bahrain (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- A US double-standard for Bahrain? - CBS News (cbsnews.com)