For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes a Bahrain appeals court’s decision today to reverse the convictions of 21 health professionals arrested in connection with Arab spring pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The physicians, nurses, and other hospital workers had been convicted last November on misdemeanor charges related to their treatment of injured protesters or their participation in “illegal assemblies.” Some of them alleged that their convictions were based on false confessions extracted under torture. Each had been sentenced to three months in prison or payment of 200 dinars ($530).
“We applaud the court’s decision, which goes some distance toward correcting what had been a gross miscarriage of justice,” said Dr. Deborah D. Ascheim, PHR’s board chair. “The kingdom must now demonstrate a renewed commitment to civil and human rights by compensating the health professionals who were wrongly arrested, mistreated, and convicted; restoring all of those wrongly dismissed to their jobs; freeing others still serving prison sentences on similarly spurious convictions; and fairly prosecuting the officials responsible for these outrageous rights violations.”
Dr. Nabeel Tammam, a surgeon at Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama who was among those whose convictions were overturned today, noted that their struggle for justice is not over.
“We will continue our pressure until we gain the freedom of all the rest of the medics still in jail,” Dr. Tammam told PHR, “because we believe that they are innocent and that all they did was to perform their humanitarian duty.”
A full list of those acquitted is available here. Two people – Ibrahim Al-Demistani, a nurse, and Sayed Adnan Ateya Mohammed, a paramedic – did not appeal their misdemeanor convictions, which therefore were not overturned. Many of the health workers charged with misdemeanors were reinstated at their jobs about a year ago, but those charged with felonies were dismissed from the Ministry of Health and face significant hurdles to resuming their chosen professions. Three of them remain in prison.
The US Department of Labor has conducted an investigation of the firings of health care workers and other professionals in Bahrain in order to ascertain compliance with the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Bahrain. In the ongoing consultations between the two countries, PHR calls on the US Department of Labor to prioritize the reinstatement of all those illegally dismissed from their work, including medical professionals, and to press for reparations for all those unjustly harmed by these labor violations.
To demonstrate that today’s acquittal is the beginning of a sea change in the Bahraini government’s approach to pro-democracy advocates and prisoners of conscience, Bahraini officials must immediately release all those jailed for their political or religious beliefs and offer compensation to all those harmed by their arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The Government of Bahrain should also fully implement the reforms outlined in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report to end abusive practices by security forces and encourage genuine political dialogue between the government and opposition groups.
For the past two years, PHR has protested the Bahraini government’s unjust and abusive treatment of dozens of Shiite health professionals as well as its militarization of hospitals and other medical facilities. PHR will continue to advocate on behalf of Bahrain’s medical community and all those harmed by the government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.