The United States said on Thursday it was â€œdeeply disappointedâ€ by a Bahrain court verdict which failed to strike down sentences against medics over their role in last yearâ€™s pro-democracy demonstrations.
The court reduced sentences against nine medical professionals and acquitted nine others â€” but rights groups also criticised the rulings, with Amnesty International saying it was a â€œdark day for justice.â€
â€œWhile sentences were reduced, we are deeply disappointed by these convictions and that the Bahraini government did not use alternative means to address these cases,â€ visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner told a press conference.
â€œThese convictions appear to be based, at least in part, on the defendantsâ€™ criticisms of government actions and policies.â€
Posner had previously suggested professional disciplinary procedures would be more appropriate for handling any violations the medics may have committed, and the government said in March it would use that route for 15 of the defendants.
But the trial continued, suggesting a dispute within the ruling elite over how to proceed with the case. The US comments were the strongest criticism Washington has directed at its ally since US President Barack Obama called on the government last year to talk to leading opposition party Wefaq. Posner also said Bahrain needed urgently to begin a political dialogue as violent clashes between protesters and riot police continue. Government feelers to Wefaq in recent months appear to have gone nowhere.
â€œDialogue has never been more urgent, as polarisation in Bahrain society increases and the social fabric becomes more frayed,â€ he said, adding it would take â€œcourage and leadershipâ€ on all sides to come together around the table.
In revising the sentences, the court gave Ali Al Ekry, a senior orthopaedic surgeon at Salmaniya, a five-year sentence and Ibrahim Al Dimistani three years.
Seven others were handed sentences ranging from one month to one year.
A government statement said five of the nine convicted men would be released because of time already served in detention.
â€œThis is an unjust ruling, they are innocent. They should be trying the authorities, not these doctors,â€ said Tewfik Dhaif, 53, uncle of two of the men sentenced on Thursday.