The Physician's Oath requires doctors the world over to treat people regardless of "religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing".Yet in the Kingdom of Bahrain, medical ethics are no defence.
This is the story of what happened in March this year, and the appalling consequences for medical professionals for simply doing their duty.
It was a cold winter's day, and thousands of protesters gathered in Bahrain. Men, women and children chanted for democracy and political reform. People from every class and belief had come to join in. There were many minority Sunnis standing side-by-side with the majority Shiites. They waved Bahraini flags and punched their fists in the air as they marched towards the city centre. Suddenly, government forces opened fire. The injured and the dead were rushed to hospital.
Doctor Ali Al Ekri was on duty that day. Twenty years ago he was the first paediatric orthopaedic surgeon ever to practice in Bahrain.
Doctor Al Ekri operated on the injured demonstrators as they came in. But not for very long.
In the middle of an operation on a 16-year-old boy with a pelvic fracture, police with guns came into the theatre.
"I was abducted from the operating theatre. There was no arrest warrant; nobody showed me anything saying that I was under arrest. They disrespected the place, they disrespected the patient's privacy," he said.
"They were at the theatre doors. When I popped out, they surrounded me, they dragged me in front of my colleagues and nurses, and they asked me to take off my surgical gown and clogs."
Doctor Ali Al Ekri was dragged, barefoot, through the corridors of the hospital.
"They started harassing me, and punching me, and treating me in a very inhumane way. They broke into my office, where they started torturing me," he said.
Doctor Ali Al Ekri was then handed over to another group of authorities. He was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to unknown location, where he remained for almost six months.
He has now been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Another 12 medics will serve the same term as Doctor Ali Al Ekri, with seven others sentenced to five to 10 years imprisonment. The fate of another 37 will be decided on October 24.
Like the other medics charged, Doctor Ali Al Ekri said he was tortured while in detention.
He said the first four weeks were the hardest because of the ill-treatment and torture. He lost over 20 kilograms during this time.
"They sexually harassed me; they introduced things in my bottom. I was verbally abused; they attacked my religion and my beliefs. They deprived me from sleeping, they kept me standing for lengthy times, and they kept me in a very cold place. They kept me isolated for the first two weeks," he said.
"Every now and then, different groups of thugs would come in and torture me. They would kick and punch me until I would lose consciousness or fall down. They would spit on me and they would treat me like a dog.
"They forced me to do many things. They would make me kiss the bottom of their shoes, and they forced me to eat their faeces. I could not tolerate that," he said.
Doctor Ali Al Ekri said he contemplated suicide while in prison, and tried many things to escape his misery.
"I tried to break my arm; I tried to bang my head a couple of times - just to get out of there and to escape my suffering. I would have done anything," he said.
So what was Doctor Ali Al Ekri's crime?
The Bahrain government has said the sentences handed down to the medics were for crimes against the state.
Bahraini officials said those crimes include using the hospital as a political platform, that they prevented patients with certain beliefs from being treated, the invitation of foreign media into trauma areas, and the presence of weapons in the hospital.
They have claimed the doctors and nurses were not arrested for treating protesters, but for their collaboration with anti-government groups to overthrow the regime.
Doctor Ali Al Ekri has been charged with 13 offences including possession of ammunition, weapons, occupying the hospital, and attempting to kill patients to damage the regime's reputation.
He said he was forced to sign a confession during these brutal interrogations.
"I was forced to admit to these things under duress and without my lawyer during the interrogation. It was a horrible experience," he said.
He said his only crime is fulfilling his oath as a doctor and telling the truth.
"This is the first time that professionals like us are witnesses to the atrocities of the regime. That's why we have been treated like this. Because we spoke out to the media, and we told people what was really happening in Bahrain," Doctor Ali Al Ekri said.
"They said: 'What gunshots? Who said there were gunshots?' Well, we said there were gunshots, because we took out the bullets from patients' bodies. They just didn't want the truth to come out."
Widney Brown from Amnesty International told the ABC's PM program their research showed the charges were illegitimate.
She said the regime is pursuing the doctors for talking to media and human rights organisations about the injuries sustained by protesters.
The experience has also been difficult for the lawyers representing the Bahraini medics. One lawyer, who asked for his name to be withheld due to fears for his safety, said the last few months have been horrible.
"This is one of the most unjust cases I have ever seen. There is no reason at all for these doctors to be prosecuted. They [the Bahrain government] are doing this out of revenge. The doctors were just doing their job, they were treating injured protesters. There is no other reason for them to go to jail," he said.
"The doctors' statements to the police and the military prosecutors were given under torture, and by force. We submitted evidence that proved there were no grounds for the accusations against them, but it was ignored and not considered. The court then issued its very strange judgement."
He said it was difficult to represent the doctors in court because of injustices in the Bahraini legal system.
"It is an impossible mission to be a lawyer in Bahrain when you're dealing with political cases because we know that our case will not be considered at all. The judges are not real judges, they are one sided. They don't listen to different sides of the story and they don't act as independent judges," he said.
"If you read the judgement, it's just completely false and you realise that these judges are just carrying out orders from somewhere else. And we have seen that these judges in the court don't even bother reading the evidence presented, or listen to what we say because everything is already prepared and cooked before the case begins."
The group of lawyers have filed an appeal, but this lawyer said he is not optimistic that the attempt will be successful.
"If the court of appeal wants to improve its reputation, it will re-examine the case and all the evidence, which may take six to nine months. But if the court decides just to carry out the instructions it's been given, which we expect, it will not take long. It will just preserve the judgement," he said.
"If the court really wants to be reasonable, it will revoke the judgement because it's baseless and has absolutely no support. It is not based on any fact."
The international community has expressed concern about the prosecution of these doctors, but Dr Ali Al Ekri said this was not enough.
"Bahrain is boiling. Countries with influence should make moves to improve the situation, and get us all out of this situation. Just highlighting the problem and condemning the actions is not enough. We need help."
Like many Bahrainis, the lawyer echoed Doctor Ali Al Ekri's cry for help.
"I'm very surprised by the attitude of countries in the West. The trials going on in the Bahraini courts are unbelievable. I don't know why the officials of the United States and the European countries are closing their eyes on these severe human rights violations and the complete absence of justice."
In: World News, Other News, Politics, Other Middle East, Religion
Tags: unrest-conflict-and-war, world-politics, bahrain
Location: Bahrain (load item map)
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