Jailed doctors call for U.S. support in Bahrain

The Washington Post reports: The relatively muted U.S. response to the sentencing this week of doctors, teachers and opposition activists in Bahrain is renewing calls there for the Obama administration to take a stronger line against rights abuses in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

Dozens of people detained after huge anti-government protests in February have been tried under emergency law in the
quasi-military National Safety Court, and in recent days were given prison terms ranging from three years to life. A civilian court has ordered the retrial of 20 doctors, but at least 80 more people sentenced for crimes that include organizing illegal gatherings remain in prison.

Ali Alekri, a surgeon sentenced to a 15-year prison term, said he had been convicted only because he had treated injured protesters and because, like most of those involved in the uprising, he is a Shiite Muslim.

“The international community did nothing,” said Alekri, speaking by telephone from Bahrain, where he has been released on bail. “We expect pressure from the Americans, and we do not know why they did not do that. Possibly there is a conflict of interest.”

Alekri said that he had been beaten, that his family had been threatened and that he had been forced to sign a confession while in prison — charges echoed by others.

Bahrain is a key Middle Eastern ally for the United States, and government opponents say that status has led Washington to look the other way amid widespread allegations of torture and illegal detentions. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is anchored in Bahrain.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that the United States was “deeply disturbed” by the sentencing of 20 medical professionals and urged the Bahraini government to commit to transparent judicial proceedings. But officials have stopped short of directly condemning Bahrain’s authorities.

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