Anger at Bahrain medic prison sentences

Nine medical workers were sent to prison on Thursday in Bahrain. This capped off an eventful 24 hours in the Gulf state and the year-long uprising threatens to spill over once more.

Even the US, a staunch ally of the state, described the sentences as “deeply disappointing”. The trial of the medical workers, that drew widespread condemnation in September of last year, came to an end.

Dr. Ali Alekry, a vocal critic of the Bahrani regime, was sentenced to five years in prison while eight others received terms ranging from one month and three years. The most outlandish accusations – of possessing weapons and occupying the main hospital – were dropped. But in attempt to appease regime hardliners harsh sentences were still upheld.

Some defendants were acquitted. One of those, Dr Fatima Haji, said, “I feel very sad for my colleagues and frustrated.”

Amongst the medics there is no sense that this was a victory. Instead the sentences are understood as a continuation of the targeting of witnesses and victims of the government crackdown on democracy protesters.

Despite the crackdown – aided by forces from neighbouring Saudi Arabia – daily protests continue in villages combined with regular mass protests that attract more than 100,000 people. During a police raid on the village of Dair on Tuesday night a four year old boy was shot by security forces while standing with his father who was selling fish on the side of the road. He remains in intensive care.

At the beginning of the week Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main opposition party Al Wefaq, made a fiery speech saying,

“If you call all of the surrounding armies, it cannot stop us.”

He went on to openly criticise the military and it’s leadership. Many were surprised by the tone of the speech who is known for a more reformist approach.

The king of Bahrain responded by saying he will take “necessary measures to address these violations” against “those who insult our military, insult of us”.

Al Wefaq enjoys strong popular support and calls for a constitutional monarchy and has pushed for dialogue with the regimes moderates.

However, if they were to be drawn into a direct conflict it could lead to the same level of protest that rocked the country in February 2011.