Story highlights

The allegations date back to the unrest in Bahrian last year

Medics are accused of turning a hospital into "illegal gatherings," the government says

The prison sentences range from one month to five years

Critics say the medics were targeted for treating injured protesters

(CNN) —  

Bahraini authorities began rounding up nine medics Tuesday, a day after an appeals court this week upheld their convictions for their role in anti-government protests last year.

Prosecutors said the medics at the Salmaniya Medical Center in the capital Manama “transformed the hospital to a place of illegal gatherings and strikes, in violation of laws” during the protests.

But human rights groups have defended the medics, saying they were just treating injured demonstrators and are victims of the government crackdown.

More: Bahraini wins human rights seat amid protests

On Monday, an appeals court sided with an earlier court ruling that the medics serve prison time, ranging from one month to five years.

“These medics are going to prison for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime’s crackdown. This isn’t the kind of progress that the kingdom keeps promising the world is under way,” said Brian Dooley, of the U.S.-based organization Human Rights First.

Protests in Bahrain started in February 2011 spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. But demonstrations in Bahrain failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings after a crackdown by authorities in the island state. The crackdown was backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

More: Court upholds verdicts against group accused of coup

Last November, Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report critical of authorities’ reactions to the protests.

The independent commission, set up by the king, concluded that the police had used excessive force and torture in their response to the protests in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority country.

Abuse of detainees in the crackdown included beatings with metal pipes and batons, and threats of rape and electrocution, according to Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, the commission chairman.

The report recommended reforms to the country’s law and better training of its security forces, as well as other measures.

Bahrain plays a key strategic role in the Middle East and is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters.

CNN’s Saad Abedine contributed to this report.