A Bahrain court on Sunday began hearing the appeals of 20 medical staff members convicted last month of participating in the country's pro-democracy protests against the ruling regime. The 13 doctors, one dentist, nurses and paramedics who were jailed for providing treatment to injured protesters all worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex [official website] in Manama, which was stormed by security forces in March after they drove protesters out of the nearby Pearl Square—the focal point of protests inspired by uprisings that have swept the Arab world. Among other terrorism charges, the 20 were accused of having possession of an AK-47, Molotov cocktails and other weapons for the purposes of ousting the ruling regime, confiscating medical equipment, spreading lies, inciting hatred against the regime and violating various other laws and regulations with an aim to disturb public security. Earlier this month, Bahrain [JURIST news archive] granted retrials for the medics who were convicted and sentenced [JURIST reports] by the National Safety Court of Appeal to terms ranging from five to ten years imprisonment. Human rights groups are concerned that the trials will proceed as appeals [Al Jazeera report], though they have been reassured by Bahraini foreign minister Khalid Al-Khalifa that the evidence and testimony against the medics would be examined de novo.
Shortly after the convictions were handed down, the medics urged the UN to investigate claims of abuse [JURIST report] and due process violations. Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official profile] announced in August that he will dismiss charges against some of the protesters [JURIST report] detained for their participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in the country. In June, Khalifa announced that an independent commission will investigate human rights violations [JURIST report] related to the country's pro-democracy protests. Earlier that month, the OHCHR announced that Bahrain agreed to permit a UN commission [JURIST report] to investigate human rights violations related to protests. The National Safety Courts were instituted in mid-March under Khalifa's three-month state of emergency [JURIST report] and have been internationally criticized, most recently [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The court sentenced nine citizens [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a police officer in May. In April, the court handed the death sentence to four protesters, a rarity in Bahrain, and upheld the sentences [JURIST reports] for two of the men who were accused of murdering police officers. All of the charges levied in the National Safety Court have been disputed by Bahraini citizens and international rights organizations.