Middle East
Bahrain to go ahead with medics trial
Justice minister says prosecution of 20 health workers who treated wounded protesters last year will proceed.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2012 16:05

The Bahraini government is still proceeding with a high-profile case against medics who treated wounded protesters during an uprising last year, despite a prosecutor's statement suggesting most of the charges would be dropped, the justice minister has said.

"At the end of the day, the last decision will be at the court, the court has to acquit or punish. Until a final judgment, all of them are accused," Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, the justice minister, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Last week, the public prosecutor released a statement saying he would pursue charges against only five of the 20 medics involved in the case. He would transfer the other cases to a professional tribunal, the statement said.

"It looks like various people are making decisions in the Bahrain government without an agreed policy. What's happening with the medics smells of incoherence and incompetence," said Brian Dooley of the US-based Human Rights First.

The accused were not informed of an official decision, and the trial has continued. The presiding judge has not explained why no charges were dropped.

"I think what I am seeing now is that the attorney general has already presented his evidence, last session, for nine hours, ten hours, and I believe that it [the trial] will reach an end," Khalifa told Al Jazeera's Gregg Carlstrom after Tuesday's press conference.

"However, you will still be accused until you receive your acquittal from the court, and this is an issue that will be left to the court itself, we will not give any kind of direction in this case."

'Alternatives' sought

The prosecution of doctors drew international criticism, and rights groups said the medics were being punished for helping civilians who had been attacked by state security forces during anti-government demonstrations.

The case is technically a retrial. It was moved to a civil court after a military court in September sentenced the 20 doctors and other medical staff to jail terms of up to 15 years on charges including incitement to overthrow the government and attempting to occupy a hospital.

Some of the doctors took part in a protest inside the Salmaniya hospital grounds and spoke to television channels from inside the hospital. Government witnesses have said they were planning to stockpile weapons and take hostages.

Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary of state, said last month that Bahrain should seek "alternatives to criminal prosecution" in the case.

Bahrain is a key ally to Washington in its conflict with Iran over its nuclear programme, hosting the US navy's Fifth Fleet. But the United States is trying to end continuing violence by pushing the government to talk to the opposition.

Clashes occur daily between riot police and youths in Shia Muslim districts.

The Sunni-dominated government describes the youths, who throw petrol bombs at police, as vandals and says opposition groups should do more to rein them in.

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