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Bahrain doctors, nurses on trial for treating injured protesters

A Bahrain court on Monday arraigned 47 doctors and nurses on charges of trying to overthrow the government and participating in illegal demonstrations when they helped treat injured protesters. The doctors and nurses were stationed [AP report] primarily at the Salmaniya Medical Complex [official website], a state-run center in Bahrain's capital, Manama, when protests calling for democratic change erupted in early February. The doctors and nurses asserted that they had professional obligations to treat injured protesters and providing medical assistance to anti-government protesters was not tantamount to participating in the anti-government protests. Though Bahrain lifted state of emergency laws [JURIST report] last week, the court, composed of military prosecutors and military and civilian judges, held the closed hearing under emergency law. The health professionals were also charged with harming the public by spreading false news and denying medical attention.

Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy websites] in April criticized [HRW press release; DWB press release; JURIST report] Bahrain for rampant human rights abuses related to anti-government protests. In March, six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] in Bahrain after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in Manana. Days earlier, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] declared [JURIST report] a three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] in response to growing unrest in the island nation. The state of emergency came just days after a group of 22 Bahraini lawmakers, part of an independent pro-government bloc, called on the King to impose martial law [JURIST report] under articles 36 and 123 of the Bahraini Constitution [text, PDF]. Also in March, the member states of the GCC, which includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE, deployed troops to Bahrain [BBC report] for the purpose of guarding oil installations and financial institutions. The Bahraini government's response to the ongoing protests have prompted international concern. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to violence against protesters [JURIST report] in the country, referencing attempts to quell protests sweeping across the region.

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