Justice for Bahrain medics welcome

Powered by automated translation

Arguments about the Bahraini government's handling of and reaction to last year's sporadic protests have rumbled on into this year. But on Tuesday, the news of a prosecution pointed to a potential new direction. Bahrain's chief prosecutor announced that 15 Bahraini policemen would be charged with torturing doctors held during last year's protests.

The background of this decision needs some explanation. In February 2011, as unrest swept the Arab world, demonstrators in the tiny Gulf state were met with a violent response from police and security forces. Most of those injured were taken to the government Salmaniya hospital complex for treatment.

At the time, authorities claimed that some of the doctors treating the protesters went beyond their medical roles and were actively aiding the unrest. The allegation drew widespread international condemnation. A security tribunal found 20 medical personnel guilty and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 15 years. That security tribunal was eventually disbanded and the sentences suspended, pending a retrial in a civilian court.

But the doctors who were detained also complained of being mistreated by the security forces. In response, the government pledged to punish those who were responsible and even the country's cabinet admitted that detainees had been mistreated.

The ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, commissioned an international panel to look at the allegations. This concluded that excessive force had been used against protesters.

Tuesday's decision takes these findings further, welcome news for those seeking a resolution to sectarian tensions. Bahrain was shaken by the protests, which for a while threatened to weaken the country's stability. The government has tried to be as transparent as possible in its response to the allegations and calls for reform. It has done so slowly, but at the highest level. Those who were harmed during the protests deserve recourse to the law. But the charges must be the start, not the end of reform.

Last year's demonstrations can still bring a sense of justice for all victims from both sides of the sectarian divide. As this week's decision shows, there is still work to be done to address the underlying grievances of the opposition in Bahrain.