* Ruling could further ignite unrest
* Case has drawn international criticism
* U.S. ally Bahrain in upheaval as clashes continue
By Rania El Gamal
DUBAI, Oct 1 Bahrain's highest court on Monday
upheld jail terms issued against nine medics convicted for their
role in last year's pro-democracy uprising, state news agency
BNA reported, a decision that could further fuel unrest in the
Gulf Arab state.
The controversial case has drawn international criticism of
the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab kingdom, which has been in turmoil
since the protests led by its Shi'ite Muslim majority were
crushed by the Sunni rulers.
Bahrain, home base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, accuses
regional Shi'ite power Iran of encouraging the unrest and has
promised a tough response to violent protests as talks with the
opposition have stalled.
BNA quoted Attorney General Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed as saying
that Bahrain's Court of Cassation rejected all appeals presented
by the defendants and confirmed the previous rulings of prison
terms ranging between one month to five years.
In June, the appeals court sentenced Ali al-Ekry, former
senior surgeon at the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, to five
years in jail and gave eight others prison sentences ranging
from one month to three years. It also acquitted nine others.
Two medics previously sentenced to 15 years each did not
appeal and they are believed to be in hiding or to have left the
The doctors were released last year after an outcry over
allegations of torture during detention.
Ekry, a senior orthopaedic surgeon at Salmaniya who was
convicted, among other charges, of inciting hatred and calling
for the overthrow of Bahrain's rulers, said Monday's ruling
might be politically motivated.
"We did not get a fair trial...We think we are a card being
used by the regime to negotiate with the opposition," he told
Reuters by telephone from Manama.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for
Human Rights, said Monday's verdict was final with no recourse
for further appeal but there might be still a chance for a
pardon by the king.
The medics' case highlights the schism in Bahraini society
over the protest movement and political reform.
The doctors and nurses, who are all Shi'ites, say they were
victimised for treating protesters and helping bring world
attention to deaths caused by security forces.
Washington and rights groups have criticised the June
ruling, with Amnesty International saying it was a "dark day for
The verdicts follow an earlier trial at a military court in
September, 2011 which sentenced 20 medics to prison terms of
between five and 15 years on charges including theft of medical
equipment, occupying a hospital and incitement to topple the
The Sunni Al Khalifa family used martial law and help of
Saudi-led Gulf troops, to put down last year's uprising.
Thousands were arrested and military trials were instituted
during the martial law period.
Washington has called on its ally to talk to the opposition,
but unrest continued. Protesters and police clash almost daily.
The Shi'ite opposition wants a constitutional monarchy and a
more equitable political system that would allow them to have
greater representation, ending decades-old discrimination
against them in jobs including the army and security forces.
The Al Khalifas fear the Shi'ites want to topple them.