DUBAI Bahrain has released 20 more medical staff detained in connection with a wave of protests that hit the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year, relatives and lawyers said on Tuesday, but they still face military trial.
They are among 48 doctors and nurses who were arrested in the wake of a March crackdown by Bahrain's Sunni rulers on pro-democracy protests led mostly by the Shi'ite majority. Hundreds of people have been arrested and dozens put on military trial.
The move comes days before a planned national dialogue, set to start on Saturday, which the government has hailed as a chance for reconciliation. Opposition groups, many of whom have yet to say if they will attend the dialogue, had called on the government to ease up on detentions and military trials as a gesture of goodwill.
Military trials of the 48 will continue, even though all but 14 of them have now been released.
Lawyers expressed relief at the decision, but were skeptical of the timing.
"I think it's all part of a political move, no more than that," one lawyer said. "We had been requesting their release in court for the last several hearings. Nevertheless, it's good news for them."
Charges against the defendants, almost all of them Shi'ite, range from stealing medicine and stockpiling weapons to seizing control of the country's main medical center. The cases have drawn condemnation from international human rights groups.
Relatives of the newly released defendants said the medical workers were weak, but in high spirits.
"He feels good that he's out, there's a huge crowd gathered to greet him at home," a relative of one doctor said. "He said they used to be treated very badly, but conditions got better in the past few weeks."
Many of the doctors have said they were tortured into confessions while detained. The government denies systematic abuse and has vowed to prosecute incidents of torture.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon, editing by Mark Trevelyan)