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Bahrain announces new trial for convicted medics

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:45 PM EDT, Thu October 6, 2011
Bahraini Shiite mourners chant slogans during the funeral of a man killed during anti-government demonstrations in March.
Bahraini Shiite mourners chant slogans during the funeral of a man killed during anti-government demonstrations in March.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Accused medics say an official statement in Arabic differs from the English version
  • The new trial will be before the highest civilian court, the government says
  • All evidence will be re-evaluated, the government promises
  • Opposition leaders are on a hunger strike to free "innocent women," a relative says

(CNN) -- Bahrain will give a new trial to a group of 20 medical staff convicted of trying to overthrow the government, officials announced.

Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority said the public prosecutor announced the new trial for the medical staff, who received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

The 20 were detained during protests. Their conviction last week sparked anger among human rights groups and the international community. The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply disturbed." Amnesty International called it a "travesty of justice."

"The retrial will be conducted before the highest civil court in Bahrain," Attorney General Ali Al-Boainain said Wednesday in the government's statement. "The Department of Public Prosecution seeks to establish the truth and to enforce the law, while protecting the rights of the accused. By virtue of the retrials, the accused will have the benefit of full re-evaluation of evidence and full opportunity to present their defenses."

However, doubts have been raised by some of those involved over how different the new trial would be.

Two medics who spoke to CNN via Skype Thursday said that a statement put out by the government in Arabic differed from the English version -- and that it would be the Arabic version that would apply to their case.

Fatima Haji said the medics' lawyers were still trying to clarify what the government intended.

Haji said she feared the "new trial" could be very much the same procedure as when they were initially convicted before a military court.

She suggested the government was trying to manipulate the foreign media by trying to give a different picture of events.

Dentist Nada Dhaif said the government had sought to attack them in the media, and that evidence and witnesses in their defense had not been listened to in the military court.

If they had been given a fair trial in the military court then all the medics would have been found innocent, she insisted.

According to a translation of the Arabic statement, the attorney general said the prosecution wants to "ensure that the law is correctly applied."

The attorney general "stressed that the charges do not include convicting a person because of his or her humanitarian duty or political opinion, since the law does not permit that," the translation states.

In Wednesday's announcement, the Bahraini government shot back against suggestions involving the charges against the medical staff. "Contrary to allegations that the medics were tried for treating patients, the charges included possession of unlicensed weapons; taking over specific sections of Salmaniya Medical Complex; participating in illegal protests on hospital grounds; refusing to treat certain patients; misuse and theft of hospital property and supplies; propagating false news, and inciting sectarian hatred," the statement said.

It came as opposition leaders, many sentenced to life in prison, were 12 days into a hunger strike dedicated to gaining the release of "innocent women and girls" from jail, the son of one of the leaders told CNN Wednesday.

Dozens of activists have been jailed and sentenced to prison during recent political unrest, including Hassan Mushaimaa, the secretary-general of the banned opposition Haq group.

"We are really worried about his health," said his son, Mohamed Mushaimaa. "They won't let us talk with him very often." Phone calls are allowed every week, he said.

The elder Mushaimaa's life sentence was upheld last week by the National Safety Court of Appeals. He and other activists were accused of trying to topple the leadership of the kingdom.

Rioting and arrests are happening on a daily basis, according to Mohamed Mushaimaa, who was released last month after a year in jail.

"All the people are talking about the freedom they want," he said. "They will fight until the end of their lives. The movement is very strong."

On Tuesday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 27 people to between five and 15 years in prison for offenses connected to the recent unrest, court documents showed.

Observers see the court rulings as the latest sign of a growing crackdown on mainly Shiite activists who have staged a series of protests in the Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain's government issued a statement saying the defendants were not on trial for protesting but for attempted murder and kidnapping, including "brutal attacks on policemen and foreign nationals" during unrest in March.

In one case, nine activists were jailed for 15 years each for allegedly kidnapping a policeman, using force against him and threatening harm for terrorist purposes, the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported, while three were cleared.

One of those convicted, named by the court as Moh'd Habib Al Safaf, also known as Al Miqdad, was also accused of using speeches at demonstrations to instigate harm against police, the news agency said.

He was also among four people sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping, beating and stealing from another police officer, it said, with the offenses "committed for terrorism purposes in order to intimidate and terrorize" Bahrain's security forces. Three people were cleared of the charges in that case.

In a third case, another 14 people were sentenced to between five and 10 years for allegedly promoting the overthrow of the government and changes to the political system by use of force and "illegal means" that included holding rallies and illegal demonstrations, calling strikes during working hours and resisting arrest, the news agency said.

They were also accused of passing "fabricated pictures and scenes" to external media organizations with the aim of damaging Bahrain's reputation, it said. Nine other defendants were found not guilty.

An increasing number of cases involving civilians arrested during the government's crackdown on protests were going before Bahrain's national security court, effectively a military court, Amnesty International said Tuesday. It called for such trials for civilians to take place in a civil court and follow proper legal procedures.

The rights group is concerned that many of those on trial have been arrested without a judicial warrant, held for weeks without access to their families or lawyers, and often see their attorneys for the first time when they appear in court, Amnesty Bahrain researcher Said Boumedouha told CNN. Many also allege ill treatment and torture while in detention, he added.

"There is talk of torture," according to Mohamed Mushaimaa, who said his father and other opposition figures are fed "unhealthy" food and aren't allowed outside very often.

In addition, the sentences given them are overly harsh for what are essentially freedom of expression issues -- such as charges of holding illegal gatherings and incitement of hatred of the regime -- rather than criminal offenses, Boumedouha said.

The Bahraini government statement said the national security court hearings have been attended by representatives of human rights groups and the media, as well as the families of both victims and defendants.

Protests have lingered in Bahrain for months despite a crackdown by the kingdom's Sunni monarchy, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In March, the Haq, Wafa and Bahrain Freedom Movement parties formed a "Coalition for a (Bahraini) Republic."

"The people want to overthrow the regime," Hassan Mushaimaa said at the time.

More than 30 people have been killed during the demonstrations, in which activists say Bahraini security forces used live ammunition against protesters.

Opposition groups say more than 1,000 people -- mainly Shiites -- have been detained and more than 2,000 have lost their jobs for allegedly taking part in the protests.

CNN's Ed Payne, Laura Smith-Spark, Mohammed Jamjoom and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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