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Bahrain eases sentences for medics in uprising

MANAMA, Bahrain--A Bahrain court on Thursday reduced sentences on nine medics for their role in last year's pro-democracy uprising and acquitted nine others, but rights groups said the case was politically motivated and should have been thrown out over use of torture.

The trial of the 20 medics, who are all Shiite Muslims, has drawn international criticism of the Gulf Arab state, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a U.S. ally.

In September, a military court sentenced the medics to terms of between five and 15 years on charges including occupying a hospital, incitement to topple the monarchy and arms possession.

In revising the sentences, the court gave Ali al-Ekry, a senior orthopedic surgeon at Manama's Salmaniya hospital, a five-year sentence and Ibrahim al-Dimistani three years. Seven others were handed sentences ranging from one month to one year.

A government statement said five of the nine convicted men would be released because of time already served in detention.

“This is an unjust ruling, they are innocent. They should be trying the authorities, not these doctors,” said Tewfik Dhaif, 53, uncle of two of the men sentenced on Thursday.

“These are the elite doctors in this country. We have 15 doctors in my family, most of the people they have treated were Al Khalifas,” he said, referring to Bahrain's ruling family.

Verdicts of 15 years from the military trial still stand against two defendants because they are believed to have left the country and thus did not take part in the retrial. The Sunni Al Khalifa family, backed by Saudi-led Gulf troops, crushed the protest movement led by the Shiite majority that erupted last year after revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The protests, which ended in a crackdown including sweeping arrests, demolition of Shiite mosques and dismissal of thousands of Shiites from their jobs, left the country more divided and riven with sectarian hatred.

The doctors, who were released last year after an outcry over allegations of torture during detention, were not present during the brief court session.

“This is a baseless political verdict. It's a political punishment to keep the loyalists happy by keeping a few of us guilty,” Ali al-Ekry told Reuters.

Official and public opinion among many Sunnis was against the doctors, who spoke to television stations about the conditions of the wounded. They accused them of deliberately worsening patient injuries and causing the deaths of protesters in order to discredit security forces who attacked them.

“In the military trial, they brought weapons to court as evidence. So who made this charge up?” Ekry said, adding it was his right to express his opinion to media during the protests.

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