Bahrain to charge medics with acting against the state

Troops guard the entrance to the Salmaniya Medical Centre in Manama (18 March 2011) The Salmaniya Medical Centre in Manama became a shelter for pro-democracy protesters

Bahrain's justice minister has said 47 medical workers will be charged with acting against the state during the recent unrest in the Gulf kingdom.

The 23 doctors and 24 nurses had promoted efforts to bring down the Sunni monarchy and spread false news, Khaled Bin Ali Al Khalifa alleged.

Activists say medics are being punished for treating pro-democracy protesters hurt in clashes with security forces.

On Monday, two ex-MPs from main Shia opposition group Wifaq were arrested.

Matar Matar and Jawad Fairuz were taken from their homes in the evening and had not been heard of since, members of Wifaq said.

Mr Matar had continued to speak out against Bahrain's heavy-handed clampdown on demonstrators, the imposition of martial law in 15 March, and the bringing in of troops from neighbouring Sunni-ruled Gulf states.

Medical profession 'abused'

Bahraini forces stormed the Salmaniya Medical Centre in Manama - the country's largest hospital - last month as they attempted to quell the protests led mostly by Shia majority community.

Map of Bahrain

The hospital had become a shelter for demonstrators and doctors were providing information on the number of dead and wounded.

Officials said the facility had been "overrun by political and sectarian activity". Dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical staff disappeared.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Sheikh Khaled read out the charges facing the medics, which included promoting efforts to bring down the government, harming the public by spreading false news, embezzlement of public funds, forcefully occupying a public building, incitement, and participating in illegal protests.

The Reuters news agency said the medics were also being charged with "assault that led to death". It quoted the justice minister as saying they had caused the deaths of two protesters by inflicting additional wounds to one and performing unnecessary surgery on another.

Bahraini men flee during a protest as riot police enter their village of Dai, east of Manama, on 24 March Bahrain has clamped down on pro-democracy protests, which it accuses Iran of fomenting

"The medical profession was strongly abused during this period," he said.

Physicians for Human Rights has said there is "hard evidence of systematic and co-ordinated attacks against medical personnel because of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protesters".

At least 30 people have been killed in Bahrain since mid-February. Among them were four policemen, and four opposition supporters who died in custody. More than 400 other people are facing trial.

Last week, four Shias were sentenced to death and three others jailed for life by a military court for the alleged killing of two security men. Human rights groups have urged the Bahraini authorities to halt the sentences.

The media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, added King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa to its blacklist of "predators" against press freedom.

The Bahraini authorities deny any human rights abuses. They accuse Iran of fomenting the unrest - a charge which Tehran denies.

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