Police in Bahrain have arrested five medics in a series of dawn raids on Tuesday morning, just one day after the country’s highest court dismissed their appeals in a case international human rights groups have rejected as a farce.
The first doctor, Ali al-Ekry, was arrested at his home at around 5:30am local time (02:30 GMT), according to his family. Al-Ekry is facing the harshest jail term: He was sentenced to five years in prison for “possession and concealment” of weapons and “illegal assembly”.
The other medics were arrested one-by-one in subsequent raids, according to sources in Bahrain.
The doctors are part of a group of 20 arrested last year and convicted by a military court; those convictions were upheld by a civilian tribunal in June, despite widespread criticism of the trial from international human rights groups.
On Monday, the court of cassation rejected their appeals and confirmed the prison sentences, according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency.
|Dr Al-Ekry spoke to Al Jazeera about
the court’s decision on Monday
The arrests came as a surprise to the doctors and their families.
All nine medics had been free on bail since last September, though they faced a travel ban. Lawyers were not sure whether the government would actually enforce the sentences, because of the international pressure surrounding the case.
“It is natural to assume that once the highest court in the land issues a verdict, that verdict is enforceable,” said Fahad Al Binali, a government spokesman.
Even al-Ekry was not sure if he would be jailed. “It’s always been vague in dealing with the medics issue,” al-Ekry said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday, the day before his arrest. “[This case] has received wide international attention, and that’s what is making my government reluctant to implement the verdict,” he said.
Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the arrests. “Today’s imprisonment once again marks the lack of any real commitment from Bahrain’s government to be held accountable and deliver true justice for victims of human rights violations,” said Ann Harrison, the group’s Middle East and North Africa deputy programme director.
Nine other doctors and nurses had their verdicts dismissed in June 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 also dismissed some of the most serious charges against the doctors, including allegations that they “occupied” the hospital and possessed weapons.
“I think the regime needs to justify the military takeover of the hospital, and needs to scapegoat doctors, hence the ridiculous charges that they persist in accusing them of,” said Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, a Bahraini academic and activist.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, the official panel which studied last year’s unrest, rejected many of the government’s claims, like the charge that the medics gave weapons to protesters. The commission also found that the medics were tortured while in custody.
“At the court there was no evidence brought,” said Fareeda al-Dallal, al-Ekry’s wife, in an interview with Al Jazeera. “Not a single video or leaflet saying the doctors were trying to throw out the regime… this case was purely political.”
Rights groups have argued that all of the convictions should be dismissed. The United Nations criticised the prison sentences as “harsh”.
Separately, Mohamed al-Mushaimaa, 22, died in a Bahraini prison overnight, his lawyer said on Tuesday. Mushaimaa was jailed last year for taking part in protests at the Financial Harbour in Manama, though he denies ever attending.
Mushaimaa suffered from sickle cell anemia, and complained repeatedly that he was not receiving proper medical treatment in prison, his lawyer, Mohsen al-Alawi, said.