An appeals court in Bahrain has convicted nine medics for their role in the country's pro-democracy uprising, despite widespread criticism of the trial from international human rights groups.
The longest sentence, five years, went to Ali al-Ekry, formerly the senior medic at Salmaniya Medical Complex, the largest hospital in Bahrain. Eight other doctors were sentenced to between one month and three years.
The doctors, twenty of them in all, were originally convicted by a military court. Two of them did not appeal their 15-year sentences, and are believed to have fled Bahrain or gone underground.
Nine others had their verdicts dismissed on Thursday by the appeals court, including Rula al-Saffar, the head of Bahrain's nursing society. She had originally been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The court dismissed some of the most serious charges against the doctors, including allegations that they "occupied" the hospital and possessed weapons.
"This is an unjust ruling," Twefik Dhaif, the uncle of two of the convicted medics, told Reuters. "These are the elite doctors in this country. We have 15 doctors in my family, and most of the people they have treated were Al Khalifas," referring to the ruling family.
'Convictions based on torture'
The medics case began in March, when security forces arrested 48 staffers at Salmaniya. The military court convicted twenty and sentenced them to jail terms of between five and 15 years, a verdict criticised by the United Nations as "harsh." The rest were charged with misdemeanors.
The group of 20 was convicted of attempting to overthrow the government; rights groups say they were prosecuted simply for treating wounded protesters and taking part in demonstrations themselves.
After intense international pressure, their cases were transferred to a civilian court. The public prosecutor said in March that he wanted to drop charges against all but five of the medics, but - somewhat bizarrely - the trial continued.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, the government panel established to study last year's unrest, found that the medics were tortured while in custody. Rights groups have argued that all of the convictions should be dismissed.
“It is a travesty of justice that the trials continued and that the medics are now sentenced to jail time," said Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based group that has done extensive work on Bahrain.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies