Posted by on October 03, 2011 in Blog

Last week, Bahrain’s National Safety Court sentenced 20 doctors, nurses and paramedics to jail terms ranging from 5 to 15 years. Though most defendants were simply doing their jobs – treating the protesters who had been shot & beaten by state security forces during the protests that rocked the country earlier this year – the government insisted that such actions were fundamentally political in nature and amounted to an attempt to overthrow the government.

The medics protested the fact that they were put on military trials despite their civilian status, and accused the government of fabricating the evidence against them. They also said confessions for anti-government crimes were extracted through torture. The government denies the allegations, and insists that the trials were fair. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the sentences as overly harsh, and called for the release of all political prisoners in Bahrain. Earlier this year, several protesters and opposition figures in Bahrain were reported to have died in custody.

In response to the crackdown, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) has introduced the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R.2643), co-sponsored by Walter Jones (R-NC) and 9 other members of Congress. The act, which was endorsed by Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, aims to “elevate the protection of medical workers as a policy priority so that countries that attack doctors and shut hospitals in times of domestic unrest will be held accountable.” 

The medics plan to appeal their convictions, but Dr. Zahra al-Sammak, who was sentenced to five years while her husband was sentenced to 15, said she was not hopeful about the appeal because the trial appeared to be unfair from its very inception. She is unsure what will happen to her three children if the appeal fails. With international attention & pressure mounting over the sentences, I hope her pessimism will be misplaced.

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