Scholars Group Asks Bahrain's King to Release Imprisoned Medics

John is a Science contributing correspondent.

With just a week left in the appeal process for 20 medics who were arrested, allegedly tortured, and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences during the political uprising in Bahrain, an international group of scientists, engineers, and doctors is speaking up on their behalf. The International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies today issued a public statement and a letter calling on Bahrain's king to clear the medics of all charges and let them get back to work.

The medics were arrested in April of last year. By then, the political uprising in Bahrain had reached a fever pitch, with mass arrests and protesters being shot in the street. The Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital city of Manama became a hotspot, with soldiers storming the building to arrest patients and doctors alike.

Exactly what role the accused played during that turmoil is in dispute. According to their supporters, the medics were carrying out their duty to treat the injured. According to the government, they were acting as revolutionary leaders. Government officials claim the medics confessed to crimes, but the medics have said the confessions were extracted under the duress of torture. Supporters of the medics say the torture allegation is supported by medical examinations carried out on eight of the health care workers.

"As a doctor myself, who has worked in the Middle East, the issue is particularly poignant and distressing," says Abdallah Daar, a surgeon and professor of public health at the University of Toronto in Canada, and one of the letter's signers. He says that the decision to appeal directly to Bahrain's king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, crystallized in April when a Bahraini doctor spoke at a meeting of the Human Rights Network in Taiwan. "It heightened our awareness of the desperate situation."

A final verdict is expected to be issued by Bahrain's High Criminal Court of Appeal on 14 June.

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