A week ago, a Bahraini “National Safety Court” sentenced a group of doctors and nurses to lengthy sentences for their activities in February and March. Eight doctors got fifteen-year sentences for what they and their defenders said was simply tending to demonstrators who had been injured. These sentences and others suggested that the royal family had decided to forget about compromises and seek only to crush dissent.
But there was better news this week: Bahrain’s Attorney General voided the sentences given to twenty medical workers and ordered new trials. As the New York Times reported, “The decision appeared to be at least a tactical retreat by Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy in the face of strong international protests over the punishments, including criticism from the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.” The English-language newspaper in neighboring Abu Dhabi called it “an apparent climbdown.”
The Attorney General’s statement included these words:
“By virtue of the retrials, the accused will have the benefit of full reevaluation of evidence and full opportunity to present their defence. ” The Attorney General stressed that “no doctors or other medical personnel may be punished by reason of the fulfillment of their humanitarian duties or their political views. Pending the outcome of the retrials, the accused shall not be detained.”
So the medical personnel are free, and a senior figure in the Bahraini government seems dedicated to assuring due process. This is very good news for those still hoping that in place of confrontation there can be compromise between the government of Bahrain and the largely Shia demonstrators and political movements. It’s certainly the first bit of positive news in months. If the government will take the same approach to the many others who have been arrested or convicted–assuring due process, and investigating abuses by soldiers and police–perhaps it is not too late for Bahrain to turn away from the violence of recent months.