Amnesty International has welcomed the release of 23 opposition activists in Bahrain, but again called for an independent investigation into claims that some of them were tortured while in custody.
The 23 men were among at least 250 detainees released early on Wednesday by order of Bahrain's head of state, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, apparently in response to demands made by protesters seeking political reform in the country.
The 23 were facing trial on an array of security-related charges, which they denied but which could have resulted in their being sentenced to death.
"While we welcome the release of these opposition activists, we continue to urge the Bahraini authorities to conduct a thorough, independent investigation into allegations that some of them were tortured in pre-trial detention, and to bring to justice anyone found responsible for torture," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The 23 opposition activists were arrested in August and September last year during a clampdown in the run up to parliamentary elections held in October 2010.
They were charged with forming an illegal organization, aiming to overthrow the government and dissolve the Constitution, inciting people to "overthrow and change the political system of the country", fundraising and planning terrorist acts and other offences under Bahrain's 2006 anti-terrorism law.
According to a lawyer for the group, Mohammed al-Tajer, it is not clear whether they were released yesterday under royal pardons or if the cases against them can be reinstated at a later date.
Two other political activists who were charged together with the 23 but in their absence as they reside in London - Hassain Meshaima’, secretary general of the unauthorized opposition organization, al-Haq, and Sa’eed al-Shehabi, secretary general of the Bahrain Freedom Islamic Movement – are also reported to have had the charges against them withdrawn under a pardon issued by the King.
The 23 detainees' cases were featured in Crackdown in Bahrain: human rights at the crossroads, an Amnesty International report released this month which highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain.
The unrest in Bahrain started with a "Day of Rage", organized on Facebook and Twitter, on 14 February and apparently inspired by popular protests in Egypt and Tunisia.
At least seven people were killed and scores, possibly hundreds, of people have been wounded in the past week by security forces that used excessive force against protesters before they were largely withdrawn last Saturday.
Amnesty International last week condemned the heavy-handed tactics used by Bahrain's security forces.