Bahrain Court Punishes Doctors for Providing Medical Care to Protesters

A Bahrain court issued 15-year sentences to eight medical workers who treated protesters during anti-government protests in Sitra. The doctors worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s largest public hospital, and were not the only ones sentenced. Other medical personnel working at the hospital were sentenced to between 5-15 years in jail for giving their assistance to protesters. The medical personnel argued that these sentences were unfair because they have a duty to treat anyone who comes into the hospital, and their assistance did not mean they agreed with what the protesters were doing.

Hans Hogrefe, chief policy officer of Physicians For Human Rights, stated that, “[t]hese are medical professionals who were treating patients during a period of civil unrest, as their ethical duty requires them to do…[and] [t]o imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable.”

The Bahrain News Agency justified the actions of the court by explaining that the hospital had been used as “a base for anti-government activity.” They argued that at a time of civil unrest there is no such thing as being too cautious and they had reason to believe the hospital was acting as an ally to protesters. They believed some of the medical personnel were in possession of fuel bombs and light weapons, and therefore needed to be dealt with.

Although there may be some weight to the convictions, the United Nations human rights office has questioned the serious due process irregularities that took place during these convictions, with some trials concluding after just ten minutes. Others have stated that the court’s actions are sending a “very negative message to the international community that Bahrain is not moving in the right direction in terms of respecting human rights.”

Do you think the 15-year sentences were justified or too harsh? Do you think the medical personnel were simply fulfilling their duty to treat those who come to the hospital or were they part of the protest effort?

The predicament of these doctors is one that is familiar to those in the legal profession; however, lawyers here in the United States are protected from such unjust associations. Under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(b) “[a] lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.” Essentially, the rule helps separate the lawyer’s beliefs from the client’s beliefs and protects the lawyer from any damage this association could result in.

Should the medical profession in Bahrain adopt a similar rule to protect themselves from these types of convictions? Should they have a different rule put in place?

Sources: The New York Times and The Huffington Post



  1. On it’s face, doctors receiving five to fifteen-year prison sentences for allegedly giving medical aid to protestors does seem harsh. However, if the evidence proves that they were in fact aiding violent protesters and perhaps exhibited violent actions themselves, then a prison sentence may be justified. Yet, I tend to agree with WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib who said “health care workers have a moral and ethical obligation to treat the injured regardless of their political affiliation and they should never be punished for doing what is required by this obligation.”

    What I find most troubling about this situation are the outrageous due process violations committed by the military court in Bahrain. The procedure by which the doctors were tried and convicted was extremely lacking. First, I find it difficult to see how the doctors could have been given a fair trial in a military court. One would think that there would be a strong military bias towards convicting the doctors and handing out harsh sentences if they were accused of aiding protestors whose goal is to ultimately overthrow the very society and way of life Bahraini military and police forces fight to protect. In my opinion, the doctors should have been tried in an impartial and objective courtroom. Only then would they have been outside the realm of military bias. Additionally, since the doctors were on trial for what seems to be serious violations of Bahraini law, it follows that their lawyers should have ample time to prepare for hearings or trial. They should be allowed a sufficient period in order to gather evidence, take depositions, prepare witnesses, etc. But according to a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Bahraini National Safety Court reportedly gave defendants little time to prepare, failed to investigate allegations of torture, and conducted some trials in just 10 minutes. Through these due process violations, the government is truly “using the law for repression.”

  2. A fifteen-year sentence for “doing your job” is outrageous. How is the medical staff supposed to know who is involved in anti government activity? The Bahrain Government claims that the hospital was being used, as “a base for anti-government activity.” Was that activity aiding injured and sick protestors? I agree with Gianna, this brings to mind the Model Rules for Professional Conduct for Lawyers in the U.S. We have these rules because the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution states that everyone has the right to counsel. If the legal system did not provide protections against judgments and or criminal prosecution for “doing ones job” no lawyer would represent certain criminals. I hope that the Bahrain Government provides more justification to the International Community as to why they have such harsh penalties for caring for patients.

  3. This penalty seems outrageously harsh and irrational. The message that Bahrain is trying to get across seems clear; Bahrain will not tolerate civilians who help enemy protestors.

    However, these civilians were simply doctors, who were performing their regular duties- aiding the injured. Not only is this situation outrageous for punishing people for doing their jobs, but additionally the entire process is completely appalling. These civilians were tried in military courts, and they received very harsh punishments without due process. The doctors have very limited access to lawyers, and when they are lucky enough to get a lawyer, the lawyer is on short notice (appointed just a single day before the trial) and thus are completely unprepared. The trials themselves, which take 10 minutes, are conducted by 3 judges, all which of whom are appointed by the military. Additionally, these trials are not permitted to be recorded, so it is hard to understand what legal procedures, if any, are actually followed. All of this is clearly done in complete disregard for the judicial process.

    Bahrain’s actions are currently being condemned by numerous groups such as the World Medical Association and the World Health Association, who explain that Bahrain’s actions are “totally unacceptable.” It is important that other groups begin to pressure Bahrain into changing its policies, because hopefully under enough pressure, Bahrain will indeed change. Bahrain’s government recently announced that all of the cases will be referred to civil courts beginning in October. While this is only a small step, it is undoubtedly an important one that will perhaps lead to more progress in the near future.

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