By Andrew Hammond
MANAMA (Reuters) – Bahrain jailed 20 doctors on Thursday for between five and 15 years on charges including stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons and occupying a hospital during unrest in the Gulf kingdom this year, state news agency BNA said.
It also sentenced a man to death for killing a policeman by driving his car over him several times and joining illegal gatherings for “terrorist goals.” Another man was handed a life term for his involvement, BNA said.
The doctors, who denied the charges, were among dozens of medical staff arrested during protests led by the island’s Shi’ite majority demanding an end to sectarian discrimination and a greater say in government.
Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers quashed the protests in March, with the help of troops from fellow Sunni neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 detained — mostly Shi’ites — in the crackdown.
Along with the charges of stealing medicine and stockpiling arms, the 20 physicians were jailed for forcibly occupying a hospital, spreading lies and false news, withholding treatment, inciting hatred of Bahrain’s rulers and calling for their overthrow.
“We were shocked by the verdicts because we were expecting the doctors would be proved innocent of the crime of occupying the Salmaniya medical complex,” said defense lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi, adding the hearing had lasted no more than ten minutes.
The doctors say the charges were invented by the authorities to punish medical staff for treating people who took part in anti-government protests