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Bahraini doctors deny anti-state activities

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d3755 (Published 14 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3755
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

Some 20 doctors have appeared on trial in Bahrain, denying charges of anti-state activities during pro-democracy protests that began in February.

They were accused of taking over and controlling the Salmaniya medical complex, Manama’s main state hospital; using violence in a government building (the hospital); and kidnapping people in the hospital and keeping them prisoner inside.

The prosecution said that automatic weapons and ammunition were discovered in Salmaniya Hospital. The military seized control of the hospital after imposing martial law in March and arrested staff members, saying that the medical complex had become an opposition coordination centre (BMJ 2011;342:d2928, 10 May, doi:10.1136/bmj.d2928).

The government official Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa also accused the medical professionals, most of whom are Shiite, of refusing to treat Sunnis.

Some 70% of Bahrainis are Shiite, and the Shia led protests have been calling for greater freedom and equal rights under the Sunni ruling family.

In all, 23 doctors and 24 nurses, many of whom worked at Salmaniya Hospital, face trial. They entered pleas of not guilty on Monday 13 June; their lawyers and relatives say they are being targeted simply for treating injured protesters. Human rights observers and diplomats were also at the trial.

One doctor at the trial reportedly attempted to tell the judge that his confession had been extracted under torture but was cut short.

One lawyer, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters news agency: “They were forced to confess. I am 100% sure that my clients are being tortured.”

The human rights charity Amnesty International has gathered reports from relatives who say that the accused have been tortured and forced to sign confession documents while blindfolded. They have been forced to stand for long periods, deprived of sleep, and beaten with rubber hoses and wooden boards studded with nails.

Defence lawyers asked for civilian doctors to examine their clients, and the trial was adjourned until 20 June.

Bahraini officials deny allegations of systematic torture of detainees and say that any cases of abuse will be investigated and prosecuted.

Until the first hearing last week—to register legal representation for the defendants—the detained doctors and nurses had had only brief telephone contact with their families and lawyers. One relative said that their heads have been shaved, they have lost weight, and they looked very anxious.

The court, which has military prosecutors and military and civilian judges, was authorised under emergency rule, and lawyers have questioned its legitimacy as emergency rule was lifted on 1 June.

It is not yet clear what sentences the defendants may face. Human rights groups say that more than 600 people in Bahrain (of a total population of almost 800 000) have been detained in all. Two men were sentenced to death earlier this month for killing a policeman. Another received a life sentence for other anti-state activities.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3755

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