The decision by the Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor to order the re-trial of 20 doctors and other health workers before a civilian court is an important step towards justice, Amnesty International said today.
The medics, who were on trial for their involvement in treating injured activists when security forces violently crushed mass pro-reform protests in February and March this year, received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years in a military court in Manama last month. Their re-trial is set to take place in Bahrain’s High Criminal Court on 23 October.
“This is certainly a welcome development if it means that the medics will now receive a fair trial and have the opportunity to clear their names,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for Middle East and North Africa.
“Their previous trial before the military-dominated National Safety Court was nothing but a judicial charade, as the Public Prosecutor now seems to agree,” he added.
The medics, who deny the charges, were convicted of “attempting to topple the government” on 29 September. Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor announced Wednesday that he was appealing against the military court’s ruling.
“If the new trial is to be fair, there must be a totally new investigation, including into the defendants allegations that they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated in pre-trial detention and forced to sign statements admitting their “guilt,” Malcolm Smart said.
“The defendants must be allowed to speak in their own defence, and their lawyers must be able to call witnesses and cross-examine those called by the prosecution,” he said.
Many other people accused of offences in connection with the protests have been tried and jailed by the National Safety Court, whose presiding judge is a military officer and which sits inside a military base. Some have received life sentences and two are now under sentence of death.
Trials of civilians before military courts violate international fair trial standards. Military courts such as Bahrain’s National Safety Court are not independent or impartial.
“The Public Prosecutor’s announcement on the medics’ case is the first official acknowledgement that the trials before the National Safety Court have been unfair, said Malcolm Smart.
"We hope now that the many others who have been subjected to trial before this seriously flawed court will now get a new and fair hearing before the High Criminal Court.”
“In particular, the 21 prominent opposition activists who were convicted of inciting violence during the protests and whose life imprisonment and other sentences were confirmed by Manama’s military court in farcically short proceedings on 28 September, should immediately be referred for fair re-trial in a civilian court or be released, “ he added.