Dublin, Ireland, September 29, 2011 – Front Line Defenders condemns in the strongest terms the sentencing today by the Bahrain National Safety Court of First Instance of 20 medical staff to prison sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years following a deeply flawed and unfair trial. Among those sentenced are Dr. Ali Al Ekri, Dr. Bassim Dhaif, and Dr. Ghassan Dhaif all of whom were trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and received 15-year sentences. Among those receiving 5-year prison sentences were Dr. Zahra Al-Sammak, who also trained in Dublin; Dr. Fatima Haji, who was a lecturer at the RCSI campus in Bahrain; and Ms. Rola Al-Saffar, President of the Bahrain Nursing Society.

Professor Damian McCormack, orthopaedic surgeon, who led an Irish fact-finding delegation to Bahrain in July, was outraged by the sentencing: “This is an utterly abhorrent decision by the Bahraini court. It is beyond belief the doctors, nurses and other medical workers could be treated as criminals for providing medical care to the injured. It is time for RCSI to reconsider its relationship with Bahrain, if there is to be no respect for the medical profession.”

The trial and subsequent sentencing of the medics is the latest instance of human rights violations that members of the medical profession have been subjected to over the last six months, including arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation, loss of employment, torture and ill-treatment, malicious prosecutions, prolonged incommunicado detention, smear campaigns, sexual assaults and death threats.

Front Line Defenders has repeatedly raised deep concerns with the Bahraini authorities about violations meted out to members of the medical profession, including their unfair trial. Mary Lawlor, Director of Front Line Defenders said in response to the sentencing: “The sentencing of these medical workers, who were upholding their professional, moral and legal responsibilities to treat the injured is unjust and will stand as a historic low for respect the most basic human rights and humanitarian principles.” The organization considers the trial of the doctors before the National Safety Court to be unconstitutional and grossly unfair. The Bahraini Constitution prohibits the trial of civilians before military courts and does not allow the establishment of a military prosecution system except during Martial Law. The operation of military prosecution is not allowed in Bahrain during a National Safety State.

Among the irregularities which have marked the trial of the medics were the failure of National Safety Court to investigate allegations of torture and the use of excessive force during their arrest; incommunicado detention for weeks without access to their families and lawyers; and extraction of confessions under torture and duress.

The trial and sentencing of the medical professionals represent a dark page in the history of Bahrain. The scale of brutality and injustice visited on doctors is unprecedented not only in the region, but internationally. The persecution of medical personnel on this scale has not been witnessed in any other country in the region despite widespread protests. The effort by the government of Bahrain to criminalize medical care is thus a dangerous precedent if allowed to stand.

Front Line Defenders calls on the Bahraini authorities to immediately drop the sentences passed on the doctors, ensure that they are reinstated to their positions and compensated for the damage suffered during their detention and trial. Front Line Defenders also calls on those responsible for the torture of the medical personnel to be brought to justice.