Skip to main content

Trial resumes for Bahraini doctors accused of aiding protesters

By the CNN Wire Staff
Shiite mourners chant anti-government slogans in the town of Sitra on March 20, 2011.
Shiite mourners chant anti-government slogans in the town of Sitra on March 20, 2011.
  • Seven witnesses testify in the trial of dozens of Salmaniya Medical Complex staff
  • The state-run media reports that a doctor funneled knives to protesters in Manama
  • A witness says a staff member gave out blood for protesters to splash on themselves
  • Human rights advocates have claimed torture was used to extract confessions

(CNN) -- The trial resumed Monday of dozens of Bahraini doctors and nurses accused of working to undermine the Arab country's government during mass protests earlier this year, with seven additional witnesses taking the stand.

Prosecutors claim the accused took over the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, stored and funneled weapons to protesters and effectively kept people prisoner.

But the medical staff members, their lawyers and international human rights activists have said that the defendants were tortured to extract confessions. According to reports from Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, witnesses said security forces stormed the capital city's main hospital where they fired tear gas and other chemical agents and beat doctors and demonstrators. Bahraini officials have denied such allegations.

The testimony Monday focused on what happened in and around the hospital -- "both on an administrative and security level" -- at the height of the unrest, according to a report from the state-run Bahrain News Agency, or BNA. The judge also heard about the medical complex's emergency procedures, as well as information on the whereabouts between February 14 and March 17 of some of those charged.

Bahrain government supporters speak out

According to the BNA report, one person questioned claimed that a hospital staff member gave out bags of blood to other staff members, so they could be given to protesters to splash on themselves.

One witness claimed that Dr. Ali Al Ekri coordinated the distribution of knives to protesters by ambulance, thus evading security personnel. The witness testified five meetings devoted to aiding demonstrators were held in the surgeon's clinic, where prosecutors have said that two automatic rifles, ammunition and hospital knives were found.

A nurse claimed she saw Al Ekri participate in protests at the hospital's entrance, with the BNA report adding that the court heard that some demonstrators even set up tents inside the hospital.

The head of the complex's emergency unit testified that he submitted a report alleging violations, including difficulties getting to patients. During the crisis, about 400 patients were treated in the emergency unit -- less than half the normal patient-load of 1,000.

Earlier this month, government official Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa accused the Salmaniya hospital doctors of refusing to treat Sunni Muslims and ethnic Indians. Most Bahrain residents are Shiite Muslims, but the ruling elite are Sunni.

Activists and human rights groups allege that medical workers are being prosecuted because they did provide treatment to anti-government protesters.

On Monday, one person disputed reports that doctors had discriminated against patients. However, another witness said that a surgeon named Ghasan Dhaif did once say, in anger, that he believed some of the wounded were mercenaries and should be removed from the hospital.

Monday's proceedings were attended by representatives from the Gulf-European Center for Human Rights and Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The trial will resume June 30, with additional witness testimony.

It is one of a host of trials that have been or are scheduled to be held related to the aftermath of protests that swept the island kingdom this winter, at a time when people around the Arab world were rising against their rulers. The small Persian Gulf nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been ruled by its royal family since the 18th century.

About 30 people have died during the protests, according to figures from the government, opposition figures and human rights groups. Opposition and human rights groups claim Bahrain's government has detained more than 1,000 people.

CNN's Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.