Bahrains military court has sentenced 20 doctors, nurses and paramedics who treated protesters injured during pro-democracy rallies earlier in the year to up to 15 years in prison. The defendants say they were tortured during interrogation to extract false confessions. The harsh sentences, handed down by a military judge, are likely to anger Bahrains Shia Muslim majority and torpedo hopes of dialogue between them and the reigning Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty. The courts action may be a sign that hardliners within the royal family have taken control, since King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has made a number of conciliatory statements which have been followed by intensified repression. A statement from the official Information Affairs Authority is headed Bahraini Doctors Sentenced for Plotting Overthrow of Government. It quotes the Military Prosecutor, Colonel Yussef Rashid Flaifel, as saying that 13 medical professionals had been sentenced to 15 years in prison, two to 10 years, and five to five years. It goes on to say that the doctors, in addition to plotting a revolution, were charged with the possession of weapons and ammunition, forcefully taking over control of Salmaniya hospital and its personnel, stealing medical equipment, and fabricating stories to disturb public security. There were never more unlikely revolutionaries. They include Rola al-Saffar, the head of Bahrains nurses society, and Ali al-Iqri, a distinguished surgeon who was arrested in an operating theatre on March 17. None of the defendants was in court to hear the sentences read out and the hearing was attended only by their lawyers and relatives. Defendants say that the military judges refuse to listen to allegations that they had been tortured. The government said the doctors can now appeal to Bahrains highest civilian court to request that their sentences be quashed. The medical staff worked in the Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital, Manama, and treated those injured in fighting between protesters and security forces after pro-democracy rallies started on February 14. After the government crackdown in mid-March, doctors and nurses were accused of planning an armed insurrection in league with Iran. Human rights groups described the sentences as a travesty of justice. Philip Luther, of Amnesty International, said: These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives. The detained doctors say they were beaten, hooded and deprived of sleep to force them to say they had deliberately let patients die and had exaggerated injuries by pouring blood over the injured. In a separate case, the military court passed a death sentence on a man found guilty of killing a policeman by running him over in Sitra district during the demonstrations. Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wifaq, the main Shia political party, said that the medical professionals sentenced yesterday alleged they had been tortured. He said he suspected that hardliners within the royal family were using the trials to send a message to [President] Obama, who last week at the UN called on the Bahraini government to negotiate with al-Wifaq. He believes that hardliners were reacting to a successful boycott of by-elections last weekend to replace 20 al-Wifaq MPs who had resigned in protest from the parliament. He said the turnout had been only 17 per cent. Mr Salman says any dialogue with the government would have as its aim the freeing of all those jailed since the demonstrations began. It is not clear how many people out of the 1,400 originally detained in Bahrain are still in jail, because the authorities have often refused to provide information about those arrested. Human rights groups believe that 38 people have been killed, four of whom died under torture. Those jailed for 15 years are Dr al-Iqri, Dr Asghar, Dr Ahmed, Dr Diwani, Dr al-Saffar, Dr al-Oraibi, Dr Ghassan, Dr Bassim, Al-Wedaie and Dr Nada. Counterpunch