Bahrain doctors to be tried for helping protesters

Dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical staff have been in custody since March, when the king declared martial law to crush Shiite dissent.

Updated: May 03, 2011, 19:22 PM IST

Manama: Bahrain`s justice minister said several doctors and nurses who treated injured anti-government protesters during months of unrest in the Gulf kingdom will be tried in a military court.

Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa says 23 doctors and 24 nurses face several protest-related charges, including participating in attempts to topple the Sunni monarchy.

He listed the charges at a press conference in the capital Manama on Tuesday.

Dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical staff have been in custody since March, when the king declared martial law to crush Shiite dissent.

International rights groups say Bahrain is targeting medical professionals who treated injured demonstrators at the Salmaniya medical center, which was later overrun by the military.

Meanwhile authorities in Bahrain arrested two former parliament members of the Gulf kingdom`s main Shiite opposition party as part of a wide crackdown on dissent, a senior party leader said on Tuesday.

Abdul-Jalil Khalil of the Shiite party Al Wefaq said two of its former lawmakers — Mater Mater and Jawad Fairoz — were taken into custody on Monday night. Khalil said he does not know the details of their arrest.

Al Wefaq has been the leading political backer of Bahrain`s uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.

Bahrain`s Sunni rulers declared martial law on March 15 to crush weeks of demonstrations by the country`s Shiite majority, which has demanded greater freedoms, equal rights and a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.

At least 30 people have died since the protests began in mid February. Among the dead are also four opposition supporters who died in custody, including a blogger.

Hundreds of Shiite protesters, opposition leaders, human rights activists and Shiite professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been detained since emergency rule was imposed.

Several members of the country`s national football team were also detained and another 150 athletes, coaches and referees were suspended since April 5 for their alleged involvement in street protests.

Last month, the tiny island nation`s Sunni rulers also ordered Al Wefaq dismantled.

Authorities also accused Bahrain`s main opposition newspaper, Al Wasat, of threatening national security. The paper will be forced to shut down next week and three of its former top editors will go on trial May 19.

And on Thursday, four anti-government protesters were convicted of killing two policemen during the protests and sentenced to death by a military court.

Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy`s 5th Fleet, Washington`s main counterweight against Iran`s expanding military influence in the oil-rich Gulf.

Al Wefaq is the most influential party in Bahrain`s seven-member Shiite opposition. Eighteen members of the party have been elected to the nation`s 40-member parliament last year
although the legislators resigned from the body in March to protest the government crackdown.

The parliament is Bahrain`s only elected body. It holds limited authority since all the country`s decisions — including the appointment of government ministers — rest with the king.

The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for more than 200 years.

Bureau Report