Sentences for Nine Health Professionals Overturned in Bahrain; Three Others Free after Sentences Reduced to Time Served; Three Free after Completing Sentences
June 14, 2012 (updated December 2012; March 2013)
After a lengthy and high-profile legal ordeal that began in March and April 2011, the cases of 15 out of 20 Bahraini health professionals previously convicted to prison sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years have at last been successfully resolved. On June 14, 2012, the High Criminal Court of Appeal in Manama fully exonerated nine of the health professionals. A further three had their sentences reduced to time served.
The nine health professionals exonerated on June 14, 2012, are:
• Nada Sa’eed ‘Abdelnabi Dhaif, dentist
• Fatima Salman Hassan Haji, rheumatologist
• Ahmed ‘Abdulaziz Omran Hassan, consultant, family physician
• Najah Khalil Ibrahim Hassan, family physician
• Hassan Mohammed Sa’eed Nasser, head of the ICU
• Roula Jassim Mohammed al-Saffar, president Bahrain Nursing Society; assistant
professor, College of Health Sciences
• Zahra Mahdi al-Sammak, consultant, anesthesiologist
• Mohammed Faeq ‘Ali al-Shehab, lab technician
• Sayed Marhoon Majid al-Wedaei, director of Paramedics and Ambulances
The three health professionals who had their prison sentences reduced to time served are:
• Nader Mohammed Hassan Dewani, consultant, pediatrician
• Bassim Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif, consultant, orthopedic surgeon
• ‘Abdulkhaleq ‘Ali Hussain al-‘Oraibi, consultant, rheumatologist
Of the remaining eight health professionals, six had their sentences reduced to terms now ranging from one month to five years. The remaining two health professionals in the group are believed to have fled the country. Because they did not appear in court during the appeals process, their original 15-year prison sentences were upheld.
The health professionals who were not acquitted made a final appeal on July 30, 2012, before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation rendered its verdict confirming the sentences on October 1, 2012. The following day, the six health professionals who had not yet completed their prison sentences were jailed. Three have subsequently completed their sentences and have been released for time served. Three remain imprisoned.
The three health professionals arrested on October 2, 2012, who have since been released for completing their sentences are:
• Mahmood Asghar ’Abdulwahab, pediatric surgeon, served remaining five days of six-
month sentence; released on October 7
• Dheya Ibrahim Ja’far, female nurse, served remaining two months of sentence; released December
• Ghassan Ahmed ‘Ali Dhaif, oral surgeon, served remainder of one-year sentence; released March 2013
The 20 health professionals—who worked at the al-Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, Bahrain’s largest public hospital, were arrested in March and April 2011 amid growing protests against the government. Some of them had spoken out, including giving interviews to foreign journalists, against the Bahraini government for abusing protesters. According to information gathered by respected human rights organizations—in particular Amnesty International, Physician for Human Rights, and Doctors without Borders—security forces used excessive force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases live ammunition, against people close to the entrance of the al-Salmaniya Medical Complex and the Sitra Medical Centre, and arrested some of the injured in the midst of receiving medical treatment. The health professionals were arrested following an intense crackdown on protesters in mid-March when the government sent security forces, backed by helicopters and tanks, to the Pearl Roundabout area, the Financial Harbor, and the al-Salmaniya Medical Complex where they violently cleared the areas.
The detained health professionals were held in incommunicado detention for several weeks during which most were tortured. They subsequently were charged with a number of serious crimes, including “possession of unlicensed weapons” and “attempting to occupy by force a public building [the al-Salmaniya Medical Complex].” They were brought to trial in early June 2011 before the military National Safety Court of First Instance. As noted above, the trial, which failed to meet international fair trial standards, resulted in lengthy sentences for all 20 of the health professionals. By the time the verdicts were announced, all of the health professionals had been released on bail. Although Bahrain’s attorney general stated shortly thereafter that the judiciary had reviewed the judgement and determined that the defendants should be given a retrial in a civilian court, they were granted an appeal before an appellate court as described above.
The CHR undertook the health professionals’ cases shortly after their arrest and appealed for their release to the Bahraini government on the grounds that they were targeted solely for carrying out their medical work. In response to CHR Action Alerts, dozens of letters of appeal in the health professionals’ behalf were sent to the Bahraini authorities by CHR correspondents and members of the H.R. Network. The CHR also wrote to international health organizations and human rights organizations to share its concerns about the health professionals and to ask them to intervene vis-à-vis the Bahraini authorities. The committee also shared its concerns with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)—comprised of five international and well-respected judicial and human rights experts. (The BICI was established by the King of Bahrain; its stated purpose was to investigate abuses committed during the February-March 2011 protests in Bahrain and other abuses in the following months.)
For more detailed information on the health professionals' case, please see their case summary