9 October 2012
Doctors leaders have expressed surprise and disappointment that the prison sentences of nine healthcare workers jailed in Bahrain have been upheld.
The medics were among 20 workers convicted after treating people wounded in pro-democracy protests last year.
Nine of the healthcare workers were acquitted by the Bahrain high criminal court of appeal in June and a further two are thought to be in hiding.
Last week, Bahrain’s court of cassation rejected an appeal against the convictions of the remaining nine medics, whose jail sentences range between one month and five years.
Six of the medics who were no longer detained were arrested and sent back to jail the day after their appeals were rejected to complete their sentences.
The BMA has been lobbying the Bahraini authorities since the arrests last year amid concerns for the principle of medical neutrality.
BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson said the association would continue to look into the details of the convictions.
She said: ‘We are disappointed and surprised, given the lack of evidence presented in the courts, that the charges were not dismissed.
‘Like the World Medical Association we will be looking at the details but feel that these health workers appear to have been targeted unfairly.’
In September, Dr Nathanson wrote to the Bahraini authorities urging them to quash the convictions and overturn the sentences of the nine medics on the basis there was a lack of evidence.
Prisoners of conscience
In a letter to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and other Bahraini officials, Dr Nathanson says the medics would be ‘prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly’, if jailed.
She adds: ‘Bahrain continues to risk appearing to persecute healthcare workers, under the guise of criminal charges, solely because they have fulfilled their fundamental ethical duty to treat patients injured in anti-government protests according to medical need.’
Since last year the BMA has met various Bahrain representatives and written several letters to the country’s prime minister and king about the appeal of the healthcare workers and breaches of medical neutrality during the so-called Arab Spring.
The case has also been closely monitored by human rights organisation Amnesty International, which has been coordinating the letter-writing campaign.
Read Professor Nathanson's Bahrain blog