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Bahrain Puts Doctors, Nurses On Trial For Trying To Overthrow Monarchy

Two doctors embrace after tending to wounded protestors at Salmaniya Medical Complex on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain.
John Moore
Getty Images
Two doctors embrace after tending to wounded protestors at Salmaniya Medical Complex on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain.

Today, Bahrain arraigned 47 nurses and doctors in a security court. The doctors are accused of participating in the attempt to overthrow the country's monarchy, but human rights groups say they are being tried simply for treating protesters.

The AP reports that the prosecution is a sign that Bahrain's Sunni leadership is intent on quashing the Shiite-led opposition, even after ending its emergency rule last week:

The doctors and nurses were arraigned on Monday during a closed hearing in a security court authorized under emergency rule that was imposed in mid-March to crush weeks of demonstrations by Bahrain's Shiite majority, which has campaigned for greater freedoms, equal rights and an elected government. The court has military prosecutors and military and civilian judges.

The medical workers were charged with participating in efforts to topple Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and taking part in illegal rallies. Other charges against the doctors and nurses, most of whom treated injured protesters in the state-run Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital, Manama, include harming the public by spreading false news and denying medical attention to several Sunni patients.

Quoting someone inside the court, CNN reports that hearing was postponed to June 13. If you remember, as the protests were going on in Bahrain, doctors became prime sources for details on the government crackdown. The scene at the Salmaniya Medical Complex became central to the coverage of the protests, until the government took over the complex, saying it was where the opposition was organizing.

CNN reports that human rights groups dispute that government claim:

"We documented a systematic attack on medical staff in Bahrain including the beatings, torture and disappearances of more than 30 physicians," said Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

"We found doctors were simply providing ethical and life-saving medical care to patients whom Bahraini security forces had shot, detained and tortured," Sollom said.

Physicians for Human Rights, a group that shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to ban landmines, says it sent investigators to the Persian Gulf kingdom and interviewed 45 patients, doctors, nurses and witnesses.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.