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Dark Days in Bahrain: Court Ruling Upholds Convictions of Medics Who Helped Pro-Democracy Protesters

Human rights groups say the move to uphold the convictions was a signal to the populace that dissent will not be tolerated.

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Bahrain is a small island between Iran and Saudi Arabia and hosts a United States naval base for the Fifth Fleet. It is considered a critical strategic ally by the Barack Obama administration, particularly for its simultaneous geographical proximity to one of Washington’s greatest enemies and one of its greatest political allies.

The 2011 Bahraini uprising was quashed with help from Saudi Arabia, a Sunni majority kingdom that is sympathetic to the ruling Sunni minority of Bahrain.

Seventy percent of the Kingdom of Bahrain consists of Shi’ite Muslims, who have been marginalised by the minority Sunni regime. The uprising was inspired by Egyptian and Tunisian rebel victories, yet it was the only Arab uprising that was successfully quashed through governmental tactical force.

The degree of that force is considered excessive by many human rights organisations and by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself.

An investigation by Physicians for Human Rights describes Bahrain’s extreme and unprecedented approach to the use of tear gas as a means of crowd control, which it said caused an increase in miscarriages, respiratory complications, and other illnesses among the Shi’ite population. Thousands have been wounded during the uprising, though the exact number is impossible to determine, as citizens fear to take refuge in hospitals after the raids and arrests of doctors and protesters.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights documented several accounts of injured protesters, including that of an asthmatic man named Mohammed.

“Muhammad’s family reported that he was routinely exposed to tear gas and sought medical care in private hospitals, but never told doctors about his severe adverse reactions to the gas for fear of being reported to authorities and sent to prison,” it said.
Investigations by Amnesty International found no use of violence on the part of the nine convicted medics, all of whom were Shi’ites.

“The fact that all these convictions have been upheld while prisoners of conscience remain behind bars highlights the lack of real commitment from the Bahraini government to fully meet the promises made less than two weeks ago before the Human Rights Council in Geneva,” Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy programme director, said in a statement Monday.

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