DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain's special security court on Thursday sentenced a protester to death for killing a policeman, and gave doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters during the country's uprising earlier this year lengthy prison sentences, a lawyer said.
Attorney Mohsen al-Alawi said the tribunal, set up during Bahrain's emergency rule, convicted and sentenced 13 medical professionals each to 15 years in prison. In addition, two doctors were sentenced to 10 years each while five other medics got 5-year prison terms.
The harsh sentences in the two separate court cases suggest the Sunni authorities in the Gulf kingdom will not relent in pursing and punishing those they accuse of supporting the Shiite-led opposition and participating in dissent that has roiled the tiny island nation.
Earlier this year, the same special court sentenced two other protesters to death for killing a police officer in a separate incident.
Al-Alawi, who was the defense lawyer for several medics, said the 20 medical professionals, who were charged with various anti-state crimes, and the protester who got the death sentence on Thursday can all appeal their verdicts.
A Bahraini rights group identified the protester as Ali Yousef Abdulwahab al-Taweel. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said that another suspect, Ali Attia Mahdi, was convicted on Thursday as al-Taweel's accomplice and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The tribunal's military prosecutor, Yousef Rashid Flaifel, said the two men were convicted of premeditated murder in the killing of an officer in the oil hub of Sitra. In comments to the state-run Bahrain News Agency, Flaifel said the men committed a "terror act" by running over the policeman with two cars. He didn't say when the incident occurred.
The prosecutor said the men were also convicted of other charges, including participating in a "public protest," and "spreading terror and fear."
As for the case of the medics, Flaifel said they were convicted on charges that include taking part in efforts to "topple the regime," possessing "unlicensed light weapons" and "spreading fabricated stories and lies."
Human rights groups blasted the ruling against the medics and said legal proceedings against Bahrain's doctors and nurses were a "travesty of justice."
"These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives," said Philip Luther of Amnesty International.
Hundreds of activists have been imprisoned since March when Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law to deal with protests by the country's Shiite majority demanding greater rights and freedoms.
More than 30 people have been killed since the protests began in February, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere. The Sunni monarchy that rules this strategically important Gulf nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, responded with a violent crackdown.
Thursday's sentences came a day after the tribunal upheld sentences for 21 activists convicted for their roles in the protests, including eight prominent political figures who were given life terms on charges of trying to overthrow the kingdom's rulers.
The court's decision reflected the authorities' unwillingness to roll back punishments for those considered central to the anti-government uprising, although officials have taken some steps to ease tensions. They include releasing some detainees and reinstating state workers purged for suspected support of the seven-month-old protest movement.
The doctors' trial has been closely watched by rights groups, which have criticized Bahrain's use of the security court, which has military prosecutors and both civilian and military judges, in prosecuting civilians.
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's population of some 525,000 people, but claim they face deep-rooted discrimination such as being blocked from key government and security posts.
The Sunni dynasty, which has ruled the island for more than 200 years, has retained crucial support from the West and Gulf Arab neighbors through the months of protests and crackdowns.
Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law in March and invited a Saudi-led Gulf force to help them deal with the unprecedented dissent. Sunni rulers of Bahrain's neighbors like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fear that any concessions to the Shiite protesters in Bahrain could widen the influence of Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Among the doctors sentenced to 15 years on Thursday was Ali al-Iqri, one of Bahrain's acclaimed surgeons who had spoken to media at the height of the unrest. Like the others, he worked in the state-run Salmaniya Medical Center in the capital Manama.
Al-Iqri was detained by security forces on March 17. He was taken from an operating theater, according to nurses and his relatives, after Bahrain's army overran the sprawling hospital complex.
Human Rights Watch last month said more than 70 medical professionals were detained during Bahrain's six-month crackdown, many from the Salmaniya hospital, a key hotspot during the revolt.
The authorities saw the hospital's mostly Shiite staff — some of whom participated in pro-democracy street marches — as protest sympathizers, although the medics claimed they treated all who needed care.
Earlier in September, authorities said all health professionals detained during the crackdowns had been released from custody. Some of them have also been charged for their role in anti-government protests. Their trials are still pending.