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Bahraini Doctors, Nurses Sentenced for Treating Arab Spring Protesters

September 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a two-part look at the tremors from the Arab spring that have hit the Arabian Peninsula, first, a report from Bahrain, where doctors and nurses face imprisonment for treating demonstrators wounded in protests against the ruling family.

Troops from Saudi Arabia helped put down that rebellion earlier this year.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: It was the revolution that never was, Bahrain’s mostly Shia uprising against the Sunni monarchy. At least 30 people were killed and hundreds were wounded.

MAN: One bullet. I see his head bleeding.

MAN: Definitely a live ammunition, because the femur, the bone, is completely shattered in pieces, many, many, many pieces.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And now 20 doctors and nurses who treated the injured have been jailed for up to 15 years. The hearing in this special security court lasted all of seven minutes. The accused were found guilty of trying to overthrow the monarchy in what human right groups said was a travesty of justice.

MOHAMMED AL-MASKATI, Bahrain Society for Human Rights: That’s the only reason why they get arrested and later sentenced to harsh sentence, because they are witnesses and they are treating the injured.

SHEIKH ABDUL-AZIZ AL KHALIFA, Bahraini government spokesman: And what we saw was 20 doctors and nurses, out of 5,000 who work at the Salmaniya General Hospital were convicted of collaborating with the hard-line protesters in Bahrain to barricade themselves in the hospital and use it for their personal political gains.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: One doctor had earlier claimed she was raped in custody.

WOMAN: They start to torture me and sexually harass me. And then they said, if you did not start to confess we’re going to rape you one after the other.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And a plastic surgeon told me at the height of the violence that the security forces had beaten him so hard, he lost consciousness.

MAN: The police were surrounding me, and they tie me from my back like this. They tie me with these — strength, and it was very tight. And then they start to beat me with their sticks.

I told them, having this — I was wearing the doctor’s and the crescent and then for the — for the area in order to identify myself as a doctor, but they don’t listen. They just come and beat. They come and beat. They come and beat.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The government says an independent commission investigating the unrest will report next month, and that this will help Bahrain move on.

But this was how the security forces dealt with protesters only last week. These pictures, which we can’t verify, were apparently filmed last Friday by the protesters themselves. Tonight, the Foreign Office said it was deeply concerned by prison sentences which it said appeared disproportionate. Though the medics can appeal, the authorities’ clear message is that they will not tolerate a return to unrest.