Bahrain upholds case against medics


Bahrain's highest court today upheld jail terms issued against nine medics convicted for their role in last year's pro-democracy uprising, state news agency BNA reported, a decision that could further fuel unrest in the Gulf Arab state.

The controversial case has drawn international criticism of the US-allied Gulf Arab kingdom, which has been in turmoil since the protests led by its Shia Muslim majority were crushed by the Sunni rulers.

Bahrain, home base for the US navy's fifth fleet, accuses regional Shia power Iran of encouraging the unrest and has promised a tough response to violent protests as talks with the opposition have stalled.

BNA quoted attorney general Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed as saying that Bahrain's court of cassation rejected all appeals presented by the defendants and confirmed the previous rulings of prison terms ranging between one month to five years.

In June, the appeals court sentenced Ali al-Ekry, former senior surgeon at the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, to five years in jail and gave eight others prison sentences ranging from one month to three years. It also acquitted nine others.

Two medics previously sentenced to 15 years each did not appeal and they are believed to be in hiding or to have left the country. The doctors were released last year after an outcry over allegations of torture during detention.

Dr Ekry, a senior orthopaedic surgeon at Salmaniya who was convicted, among other charges, of inciting hatred and calling for the overthrow of Bahrain's rulers, said today's ruling might be politically motivated.

"We did not get a fair trial...We think we are a card being used by the regime to negotiate with the opposition," he said from Manama.

Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said today's verdict was final with no recourse for further appeal but there might be still a chance for a pardon by the king.