Middle East

Bahrain appeals court reduces jail terms of protest medics

A Bahraini appeals court has partially overturned a court ruling sentencing 20 medics to lengthy jail terms for taking part in anti-government protests.

Nine of the medics were acquitted but one of the doctors, Ali al-Ekri, was sentenced to five years in jail.

Another was given three years, while a further seven medics were handed jail terms of between a month and a year.

The US said that it was "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision.

State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was "discouraged" that the Bahraini government had not used alternative means to address the cases.

"We believe these convictions do appear, at least in part, to be based on the defendants' criticisms of government actions and policies," she said.

Two of the medics convicted last year did not appeal their sentences - they are thought to have left Bahrain or gone into hiding.

Many of the 20 medics facing jail were working at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital Manama last February and March, when security forces violently suppressed pro-democracy protests.

'Hatred and contempt'

In September, an emergency military court set up to deal with the unrest found them guilty of publicly inciting "hatred and contempt", as well as engaging in illegal assemblies.

A defence lawyer for several of the doctors and nurses said they should never have faced criminal charges and should all now be acquitted.

The Bahraini government has faced international condemnation over the original convictions.

Most of the medics have already served jail time, but were released last year after claims they had been tortured in custody.

One of the freed medics, Dr Fatima Haji, said the experience had left her permanently scarred.

She had been accused of spreading blood on protesters to exaggerate their injuries.

"It's not like a very bad flu that you get and then you will just get over it," she said.

"It's the feeling of injustice, of being innocent and oppressed. I don't think I'll ever be over the fear of losing my son, the fear of losing my life."

But Ms Haji said she would not be deterred from trying to defend her rights.

"It has turned me from a doctor, a mother, to a person who cares about others," she explained.

"Even if I'm found non-guilty, even if I was sent back to my job, I will still try to protect the rights of other people."

Another defendant, Dr Nada Dhaif, told the BBC earlier this year that before signing a confession while blindfolded, she was beaten, threatened with rape and given electric shocks by security forces.

The government said it had launched investigations into allegations of abuse and several police officers have been convicted.