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Agence France Presse

Bahrain Sentences Protester to Death, Medics to Jail


A Bahraini court on Thursday sentenced a protester to death for killing a policeman after a crackdown on pro-reform rallies and jailed 20 Shiites medics charged with trying to overthrow the regime.

Ali Yusof al-Taweel was sentenced to death and another protester, Ali Mahdi, to life in prison for running over policeman Ahmed al-Mreyssi in a Shiite area of Manama during unrest after the demonstrations were crushed in mid-March, military general prosecutor Yusof Flaifel said.

Thirteen medics were sentenced to 15 years in jail for their roles in protests, two others to 10 years and five to five years, including several women, he added, as cited by the BNA state news agency.

London-based advocacy group Amnesty International termed the verdicts against the medics a "travesty of justice."

The national safety court was set up under a three-month quasi-emergency law declared by King Hamad ahead of the crackdown on the protests led by the Shiite majority of the Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.

The medics all worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, which was stormed by security forces after they drove protesters on March 16 out of the nearby Pearl Square -- the focal point of protests inspired by uprisings that have swept the Arab world.

The medics included 13 doctors, one dentist, nurses and paramedics.

BNA said the medics were tried for "forcefully occupying SMC... possessing unlicenced arms (one AK-47) and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news."

They were also accused of "inciting hatred for the regime and insulting it, instigating hatred against another sect and obstructing the implementation of law, destroying public property and taking part in gatherings aimed at jeopardising the general security and committing crimes," BNA said.

"All these acts were done with a terrorist aim," it added.

"These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives amid very trying circumstances," said Amnesty International's Philip Luther.

"It appears that the real reason for targeting these health workers was the fact that they denounced the government crackdown on protesters in interviews to international media," he added.

A relative of one of the accused wrote in an emailed statement: "None of the accused medics attended today's hearing. Lawyers and some family members were present."

The 20 medics, many of whom had gone on hunger strike, were released on bail on September 8.

They were among a group of 47 medics rounded up in the wake of the brutal crackdown on the protest, which also targeted Shiite villages across the Gulf archipelago.

Many medics say they were tortured in custody.

Ali al-Ekri, one of the doctors jailed for 15 years, said the sentence was expected because their case had become "politicised."

"We never called for the regime to step down. We are professionals, we did our job," he insisted.

He said that an appeal would be launched in about two weeks, adding however that he was "not very optimistic."

Shiite opposition ex-MP Matar Matar, who was himself detained for about three months, said Taweel and Mahdi were made to confess to running over the policeman under torture, adding he shared a cell with them.

"They were in the same cell with me. They told me that they were forced to confess, reconstruct the crime scene of the running over, and to sign pre-written statements," he told AFP.

"They said the same to the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry in my presence. We expect the commission to have a role. All these confessions were made under torture," he added.

The independent commission of foreign experts was charged by King Hamad with investigating the crackdown on protesters and opposition figures.

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

BNA said those convicted on Thursday can appeal their verdicts in a civil court.

Authorities in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty have said that 24 people were killed when the protests were put down, most of them demonstrators. The opposition puts the death toll at 30.

Shiite protesters have gone back to the street few months after the crackdown, staging demonstrations in their villages.

A group of 38 women and seven girls were arrested on Friday as they staged a protest in a Manama mall calling to boycott by-elections held the day after. Authorities said 26 of the total 45 were released.

The largest Shiite political formation, Al-Wefaq, organised Thursday a rally for women in the village of Muqsha calling for the release of all women in custody.

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