Bahrain to charge medics for treating protesters
Published 04/05/2011 | 05:00
Doctors and nurses who treated injured anti-government protesters during the months of unrest in Bahrain will be tried in a military court on charges of acting against the state.
Justice minister Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa said the charges against 23 doctors and 24 nurses include participating in attempts to topple the island's Sunni monarchy and taking part in illegal rallies.
The announcement is the latest in the Sunni rulers' relentless pursuit of Shi'ite opposition supporters after weeks of street marches demanding greater freedoms, equal rights and an elected government in Bahrain.
During the unrest, medical staff repeatedly said they were under professional duty to treat all, and strongly rejected claims by authorities that helping anti-government protesters was akin to supporting their cause.
Bahrain's Sunni rulers declared martial law on March 15 to crush Shi'ites demonstrating for greater rights and freedoms. Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, human rights activists and lawyers have been detained since emergency rule was imposed. Dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical staff have been arrested.
At a press conference yesterday, the justice minister read the charges against the 23 doctors and the 24 nurses, which also include "promoting efforts to bring down the government" and "harming the public by spreading false news".
International rights groups say Bahrain is targeting medical professionals who treated injured demonstrators at the Salmaniya medical centre, which was later overrun by the military.
At least 30 people have died since the protests in Bahrain began in mid-February. Among the dead are four opposition supporters who died in custody.
Last week, four anti-government protesters were convicted of killing two policemen during the protests and sentenced to death by a military court.
The military took over the state-run Salmaniya hospital in March, and doctors and patients said soldiers and police had conducted interrogations and detentions in the complex.
Physicians for Human Rights said in a report last month that at least 32 healthcare professionals had been detained since Bahrain declared martial law. The report by the US-based group detailed attacks on medical staff and patients "with weapons, beatings and tear gas".
Authorities also accused the main opposition newspaper, 'Al Wasat', of threatening national security. The paper will be forced to shut down next week and three of its former top editors will go on trial on May 19.