A Bahraini court has sentenced hospital staff, which provided medical treatment to injured protesters during the course of the pro-democracy uprising earlier this year, up to 15 years in prison after finding them guilty of plotting to overthrow the government.
The tribunal, set up when authorities imposed emergency rule, convicted and sentenced 13 people each to a jail term of 15 years. In addition, two doctors were sentenced to 10 years each while five other medical professionals were on Thursday sentenced to a five-year prison term.
Responding to the verdict on its website, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) expressed “deep concern at the harsh sentences against 20 medical staff”. Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain centre for human rights, appealed on his Twitter account soon after the verdict, for international help to “protect the life, liberty and basic rights of the Bahraini demonstrators”. After many of them had staged a hunger strike, these medics had earlier been granted bail, which analysts had then misinterpreted as a sign of the regime's softening stand towards those detained during the February-March revolt.
In another case, Bahrain's special security court has sentenced to death a protester, Ali Yousef Abdulwahab, for killing a policeman. Another accused, Ali Attia Mahdi, identified as Mr. Abdulwahab's accomplice, was awarded life imprisonment.
Bahrain's iron-fisted response had first come into prominence after the regime invited troops, chiefly from Saudi Arabia, to quell the rebellion. Heavily armed security forces had then attacked protesters, who had assembled around Manama's famous Pearl structure, the symbol of the revolt, which was also subsequently demolished.
On Wednesday, the tribunal had upheld sentences for 21 activists, who had been convicted for their roles in the protests.
These included eight prominent political figures who were sentenced for life on charges of attempting to overthrow the ruling monarchy.
Unlike Bahrain, neighbouring Saudi Arabia has been making a serious effort to soften its ultra-conservative image, reinforced after the onset of the Arab Spring, the pro-democracy uprisings in West Asia. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, reversed a court verdict, which, had it been carried out, would have subjected a Saudi woman to 10 lashes for defying a ban on women to drive. On Wednesday, a Saudi court had found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban.
Piqued by the driving restrictions, social media activists have launched a full-fledged campaign dubbed Women2Drive, which aims to reverse the ban. Earlier, the Saudi monarch had announced that women would be allowed to vote and stand for local elections in 2015. He had also promised to appoint women in the advisory Shoura council, which has so far been preserved as an all-out male bastion.
Elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula, violence continues to grip Saudi Arabia's southern neighbour Yemen, which is teetering on the edge of a civil war.
On Thursday, troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh continued to shell forces loyal to Mohsen Al Ahmar, the rebel commander of the first armoured division, who is supporting the pro-democracy protests, which began eight months ago.
The anti-Saleh camp also has as an ally, Sadeq-al-Ahmar, the leader of the powerful Hashed tribe. Reuters is reporting that the northern neighbourhoods of the capital Sana'a have borne the brunt of the fighting on Thursday.
Keywords: Bahrain democracy protest