Oh dear. An appellate court in Bahrain has come down with its decision on charges against 18 Shiite doctors who were arrested during the recent unrest. First the good news. The court dismissed charges against 9 of them and reduced the sentences imposed on the other 9. Now the bad news. The court did not seem bothered by the idea that the doctors were arrested while treating victims of violence during the unrest. Nor was there a response to the allegations by most of the doctors that they were tortured while in custody. NYT reports.
(A) statement, from the International Affairs Authority, said the doctors were not convicted for treating patients, but “primarily for their involvement in politicizing their profession, breaching medical ethics,” and “their call and involvement in the overthrow of the monarchy.”
Hmmm … so just what were the 9 doctors actually doing? If they were doing something bad (like assaulting security officers or refusing access to investigators) the above statement would probably have said so. But the whole thing remains suspiciously murky. One of the doctors said
“It’s a cocktail of baseless sentences,” Dr. Dhaif said in a telephone interview after the verdict. “They’ve reduced the sentences based on international pressure. We were arrested arbitrarily, and we were tortured. It’s all politicized, and based on revenge.”
My take - there is no sense trying to understand this decision from a strictly legal perspective. It reflects an attempted political balancing act - one the one hand, keeping the US just happy enough and on the other hand keeping the Shiites just frightened enough so that the monarchy can maintain its political control. Control is the key word here. Not absolute control, but control of the pace of
reform events so that it does they do not endanger authority.
Is it right? Well, human rights and rule of law advocates have room to complain. Probably the more important question is, will it work? My guess is that it will — but only in the short run. Still, let’s hope for the best. And what would that be? That the parties can still somehow find a way back to dialogue rather than confrontation as the tool of choice for dealing with the crisis. And yes, Bahrain is still in crisis.