Bahrain is to retry in a civilian court 20 medical staff found guilty in a military trial after a crackdown on pro-democracy unrest earlier this year, the government said after the verdicts drew criticism on human rights grounds.
“The Public Prosecutor announced today that a new trial has been ordered for a group of 20 medical staff … found guilty in initial trials in the National Safety Court,” said a statement from the Gulf Arab state’s Information Affairs Authority.
In late September, a military court sentenced the 20 doctors and medical staff to jail for up to 15 years on theft and other charges, in what critics said was a reprisal for treating mostly Shi’ite protesters injured during unrest in the minority Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom, Reuters reports.
The United Nations human rights office said at the time the initial trails failed to meet international standards of transparency and due process, and the World Medical Association condemned the sentences as “totally unacceptable.”
In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States was “deeply disturbed” by the jailing of the doctors in Bahrain, a close ally of Washington. The British government also voiced concern over the sentences.
Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers quashed the protests in March, with the help of troops from fellow Sunni neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 detained — mostly Shi’ites — in the crackdown.
“The Department of Public Prosecution seeks to establish the truth and to enforce the law, while protecting the rights of the accused. By virtue of the retrials, the accused will have the benefit of full re-evaluation of evidence and full opportunity to present their defences,” the statement said.
“No doctors or other medical personnel may be punished by reason of the fulfilment of their humanitarian duties or their political views,” attorney general Ali al-Boainain said.
Bahrain jailed 13 Shi’ite Muslim men for five years and another six for a year for trying to burn down a police station, state media said earlier on Wednesday, bringing to almost 80 the number of opposition figures and protesters sentenced this week.