The Bahraini authorities’ decision to try two prominent women activists in a military court is a backward step and raises concerns that they will not receive a fair trial, Amnesty International said today.
Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, and Jalila al-Salman, vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA), have been released on bail after being detained for several months for their involvement in pro-reform protests.
Roula al-Saffar will be tried next Sunday together with 13 other medical workers before the National Safety Court, a military court, although she and Jalila al-Salman, who will be tried by the same court the following day, are both civilians.
"While we welcome the belated release of Jalila al-Salman and Roula al-Saffar, it is deeply disturbing that they are to stand trial before a military court and so are at risk of being imprisoned again next week,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Civilians should never be tried before military courts. The National Safety Court has been a parody of justice and a stain on the Bahraini authorities' claim to uphold the rule of law," he said.
The two activists were released on bail on Sunday after the Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Professor Cherif Bassiouni, visited them in prison on Saturday.
Roula al-Saffar was among a group of health professionals accused of committing felonies, including theft of medicines, during the protests that began in February. They strongly deny the allegations.
Jalila al-Salman faces trial on charges that include "inciting hatred against the regime" and calling to overthrow and change the regime by force".
She appeared before the National Safety Court several times in June before her case was transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
Later the same month, the King of Bahrain announced that all military court trials connected with the February-March protests would be moved to civilian courts.
He then backtracked on 18 August, issuing a decree which makes it clear that the new measures do not apply to all arrested protesters.
The decree requires that those charged with a felony are to be tried by the National Safety Court if their cases had already been referred to that court, which was set up when the King declared a state of emergency at the height of the protests in March.
The new law means that scores of people detained during the protests are now liable to be tried in the military court.
"This is a complete U-turn by the Bahraini authorities. After they indicated that military courts were a thing of the past, it now seems that these courts are being resurrected to do the government's bidding ," Malcolm Smart said.
"Anyone charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence must be promptly given a fair trial in a civilian court."
According to local human rights organizations, many teachers and members of the BTA were detained, harassed and tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention for their participation in protests earlier this year.
At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in custody on suspicious circumstances. More than 2,500 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.
BICI’s five-member investigation panel is expected to report on its findings in October.