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Bahrain court rejects final appeal of protesting medics

Bahrain’s highest court has rejected the final appeal by nine medics against prison sentences for their role in anti-government protests last year. The verdicts drew criticism from international human rights groups.

The nine doctors were part of a group of 20 doctors and nurses who worked at a hospital in Bahrain's capital Manama last year, when the Shiite-led uprising against the country's Sunni rulers started.

The protests turned violent with security forces cracking down on demonstrators, and the medical staff of the Salmaniya Medical complex claimed that all they did then was to treat those who had been injured.

Bahrain's rulers put down the protests with the help of Saudi-led troops, thousands of people were arrested and martial law was introduced for an interim period.

Wide-ranging charges

The medics were found guilty by a military court on a wide range of charges ranging from theft of medical equipment and occupation of a hospital to terrorist activities, of illegal assembly and inciting hatred to topple the state. Several of them got long jail terms of up to fifteen years.

Nine of the medics were later acquitted of all charges by lower appeals courts, two are in hiding and it was the remaining nine who lost their last appeal on Monday. One of them, the doctor Ali al-Ekri, now has to serve a five year prison term. His sentence is the longest.

The medics, 15 of whom are doctors and all of whom are Shiite, alleged they had been tortured in prison. In September, Bahrain's public prosecution office charged seven policement with torture and maltreatment of the medical personnel. 

The situation in Bahrain remains volatile. Al-Ekri told the Reuters news agency on Monday that he had not had a fair trial “We think we are a card being used by the regime to negotiate with the opposition,” he said.

Shiite protesters in Bahrain are fighting for a more equitable political system, which would give them better representation.

US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain

Bahrain is an ally of the United States and hosts the base for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. Washingon has urged its ally to talk to the opposition and find a peaceful solution.

While Monday's was the last appeal, a spokesman for the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said that as a last resort, the medics could still hope for a pardon by the king.

rg/ipj  (Reuters, APE, AFP)