By Richard Hall – 10/10/2011 – 12:48 p | Hits: 454
Bahraini medical workers who were handed lengthy jail terms for their alleged support of pro-democracy protests hope they will get a fair trial now they have had their sentences overturned.
Appearing to buckle under international pressure, Bahrain’s Attorney-General ordered retrials in a civilian court for the 20 doctors, nurses and paramedics who treated injured protesters during demonstrations against the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty.
Ali al-Boainain said that “the accused will have the benefit of full re-evaluation of evidence and full opportunity to present their defences”.
The medics were sentenced in a quasi-military court to terms ranging from five to 15 years for alleged offences including the possession of weapons, stealing medical equipment, and “fabricating stories to disturb public security”.
They protested their innocence, saying they were tortured during interrogation to extract false confessions.
Their sentencing provoked outrage from human rights organisations, medical associations and the United Nations, which called for the convictions to be overturned.
Roula al-Saffar, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison, said told the Independent that the ruling represented a “new start” and called on the authorities to review the cases of other medical professionals who had been convicted of similar charges.
“I am shocked, but at the same time I am very happy. It is a new start for us,” said Saffar, the head of the Bahrain nursing union.
“I hope that they will hear us out this time. Last time we were not heard. The military court screamed at us.
“Our confessions were forced out of us and we were forced to sign in handcuffs.”
A government spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, said of the decision yesterday: “We’ve always said that all cases that have been tried in the National Safety Court will be transferred to the civilian court for review, and all sentenced people will have the right to appeal where a full review will be considered in regards to evidence procedures.”
Bahrain’s ruling Muslim Sunni monarchy has waged sweeping crackdowns against mostly Muslim Shia protesters calling for greater rights.
The doctors and nurses worked at the state-run Salmaniya Medical Centre close to the capital’s Pearl Square, which became the epicentre of Bahrain’s uprising, inspired by other revolts across the Arab world.
The authorities saw the hospital’s mostly Shia staff as protest sympathisers, although the medics claimed they treated all who needed care.