Bahrain postpones protesters' death penalty appeal

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2011 2:16 PM
Bahrain postpones protesters' death penalty appeal

A civilian court in Bahrain on Monday postponed a highly anticipated ruling on the appeal of two protesters sentenced to death by a security court during a wave of anti-government protests earlier this year.

Meanwhile, another high-profile case resumed on Monday _ the retrial of doctors and other medical professionals who treated protesters injured during the Shiite majority's campaign for greater rights in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.

The medics' trial has been closely watched by rights groups that have criticized Bahrain's prosecution of civilians by the special tribunal, which included military prosecutors and judges. The tribunal was set up under martial law-style rule that was lifted in June.

In the initial trial at the security court, more than a dozen health professionals were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years on charges of attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

However, faced with rising international criticism, authorities subsequently ordered a retrial of the medics in a civilian court.

Both cases figured prominently in the probe by an international panel that investigated Bahrain's unrest. The panel criticized the special security court in its 500-page report released last week. The report detailed abuses in Bahrain's crackdown on protests and recommended authorities review convictions and sentences handed down by the special court.

The two protesters sentenced to death were convicted of murdering two policemen in April. Bahrain's state-run news agency said the Cassation Court on Monday postponed their appeals' hearing until Jan. 9.

During Monday's proceedings against the medics, the prosecutors brought weapons into the courtroom that they said were found in the medical complex where hundreds of protesters were treated during the unrest, according to defense lawyer Jalila al-Sayed.

Al-Sayed told The Associated Press the prosecutors exhibited two machine guns, three boxes of light ammunition, several swords, knives and machetes, which they said were recovered at the state-run Salmaniya Medical Center close to the Pearl Square in the capital Manama after the military in March stormed the hospital.

The square became the epicenter of Bahrain's uprising, inspired by other revolts across the Arab world.

The authorities saw the hospital's mostly Shiite staff _ some of whom participated in pro-democracy street marches _ as protest sympathizers, although the medics claimed they treated all who needed care.

At least 35 people have died since February when protests began in Bahrain. Hundreds of people have been arrested, tried in the security court or purged from jobs on the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

As part of reforms after the independent report, Bahrain's interior minister, Lt. Gen. Sheik Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, said talks are under way to bring U.S. and British law enforcement specialists to help train police.

This would be among changes to security forces, including having Bahrain's king appoint the head of the highest defense council and elevate the post to a government-level office.

The Bahrain News Agency said contract talks are in the final stages to bring in the Western police experts.