Last updated: 8 September, 2011

Bahrain releases Shiite medics on bail

A special Bahraini court has released on bail Shiite medics being tried for their role in a month-long pro-democracy protest, the Information Affairs Authority said Thursday.

The national safety court, set up under a three-month quasi-emergency law declared by King Hamad ahead of the mid-March crackdown on the protest led by the Shiite majority, said the verdict will be issued on September 29, IAA said.

It said seven doctors and three ambulance drivers were released, and that all doctors and medical staff are now out on bail “pending announcement of verdicts.”

Some of the released medics had led a hunger strike for more than a week, according to the opposition.

The Bahrain Commission of Inquiry — an independent panel of foreign experts set up by King Hamad to investigate the crackdown — said more than 100 detainees had gone on hunger strike, 17 of whom were hospitalised after their health deteriorated.

Bahraini authorities have charged 24 doctors and 23 nurses — including several women — from Manama’s central Salmaniya hospital of incitement to overthrow the regime, during the protests in the Gulf kingdom that is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

In addition, they were accused of “incitement to hatred of a regime, incitement to hatred of a segment of society, dissemination of false news and malicious rumours that could harm public interest and participation in unauthorised rallies and meetings.”

The total number of medics being tried is not clear, but BNA state news agency said that 20 doctors and medics were in court Wednesday.

They were all rounded up in the wake of the heavy-handed security clampdown which forcefully drove protesters out of Manama’s central Pearl Square that became the focal point of anti-regime protests for a month, before being razed.

Many claim to have been tortured in custody.

The national safety court is a mixed military and civilian panel. But King Hamad last month promised that all Bahrainis in trials related to protests will see their verdicts issued by a civil court.

Authorities said in May that 405 detainees had been referred to courts, while 312 were released.

The medics received jubilant welcomes in their villages upon their release late Wednesday.

Images and videos posted on the Internet showed many doctors being carried on the shoulders of supporters as welcoming crowds chanted slogans reminiscent of the mottos of the protest.

“We will win. God will help us,” they chanted as they carried released doctors, brothers Bassam Daif and Ghassan Daif, showed a video clip posted on the Facebook page of the main Shiite opposition formation, Al-Wefaq.

Meanwhile, Al-Wefaq called for a mass protest on Friday labeled “The Friday of determination” under the slogan “no giving up; we insist on our demands.”

The demands include an elected government, fully empowered parliament and equitable division of electoral constituencies.

Authorities said 24 people were killed in the unrest, including four policemen. The opposition put the toll at 30.