The United States on Thursday expressed its disappointment over a Bahraini appeals court ratifying the convictions of nine medics for their role in last year's pro-democracy uprising, and said it was "discouraged" by the failure of Bahrain's government to use alternative means to address their cases.
The U.S. reaction came hours after a Bahraini appeals court reduced long-prison sentences awarded to nine medics by a military court for their involvement in last year's unrest and acquitted nine others. Nevertheless, the 15-year-prison terms awarded to two of the accused medics by the military court still stands as they did not participate in the retrial. They are believed to have fled the country or gone into hiding.
"We are deeply disappointed that an appeals court in Bahrain upheld the convictions of nine of the medics even as they acquitted nine others who were associated with the protest last year at the medical complex. As we have said, we believe these convictions do appear, at least in part, to be based on the defendant's criticisms of government actions and policies," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a news briefing.
"So while the sentences were reduced, we are discouraged that the Bahraini Government did not use alternative means to address these cases. And we hope that there is an expedited review of them, including their appeals in the Court of Cassation. And we are urging that they be allowed to stay home during the appeal period and we hope that the review will result in a dismissal of the charges," Nuland said.
The spokeswoman added that Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Mike Posner, who is currently in Bahrain, has conveyed Washington's displeasure, and spoken out publicly against the court verdict at a press conference held in the Gulf Kingdom.
Last year, the National Safety Court had sentenced the 20 medical workers, including doctors, to prison terms ranging from five to fifteen years after finding them guilty of attempting to overthrow the country's government during the unrest. The sentencing was strongly criticized by several rights groups and nations, including the United States and Amnesty International.
In Thursday's verdict, the appeals court commuted the jail term of one doctor to five years, while another was given a three-year sentence and seven medics were awarded jail terms ranging one month to an year. The Bahraini government has since said that five of the nine convicted would be released because of time already served in detention.
All the medical workers involved in the case were employees of the Salmaniya Medical Complex in capital Manama. They had provided treatment to protesters who were injured in clashes with security forces during the uprising. Bahrain's security forces stormed the hospital in mid-March as part of efforts to quell the unrest with the help of troops from other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States. While many of the medical workers at the facility were arrested, some of them managed to flee the country.
The Bahraini government suppressed the civil unrest, which began on February 14 demanding political reforms in the tiny island nation. It is believed that at least 25 people were killed and more than 1,000 Opposition supporters detained in the ensuing crackdown.
The protests were initiated by the Opposition and Bahrain's Shia majority, who have long been complaining about discrimination in housing and government jobs. They have been demanding greater political rights and want the Sunni monarchy to hand over most of its powers to the elected Parliament.
The political unrest in Bahrain has been of particular concern to the United States since the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based there. The U.S. also fears that the strategically-located Persian Gulf Kingdom with its Shia-majority population could come under Iranian influence.
by RTT Staff Writer
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