BAHRAIN had a chance to correct a grave injustice and set the country on a better path by dismissing specious cases against 20 Shiite doctors convicted last year after they treated protesters injured during the popular uprising against the Sunni-led monarchy. Instead, the High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the convictions of nine of them and imposed sentences of up to five years in jail. And 15-year sentences against two other doctors, who have fled the country, were upheld.
Eighteen of the 20 doctors said they were tortured after their arrests. This ruling will feed the Shiite majority’s legitimate resentments and, we fear, lead to more instability.
That will harm Bahrain and its closest allies, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
There is some good news in the fact that nine doctors were acquitted. But the government’s attempt to spin the judgment – noting that most sentences were reduced from those imposed by the original military court – is absurd. The cases should never have been brought in the first place. The government showed its real intentions when it accused the physicians of ‘breaching medical ethics’ and acting to ‘overthrow’ the monarchy.
The truth is that the doctors were acting consistent with the highest medical ethics and their responsibility as Bahraini citizens.
They provided medical treatment to patients regardless of political leanings and rightly denounced the government’s excessive use of force.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Manama, the capital, and the Obama administration – eager to preserve that relationship – has been too cautious in criticising Bahrain’s government and its crackdown on protesters. It suspended arms deliveries because of human rights concerns in October, but it said it would resume them last month.
On Thursday, the State Department said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the convictions and urged dismissal of the charges. In Manama, a senior US official, Mike Posner, called ‘urgently’ for dialogue between the government and the opposition.
The administration must do a lot more to persuade Bahrain of the need for reforms that give Shiites full political rights and all citizens a voice in their country’s future.
That is the only way for Bahrain to find real security and lasting stability. That is the only way for the US to ensure its welcome.