Bahrain activists jailed following ‘politically motivated’ trials

The trials of 15 activists convicted over their involvement in pro-reform protests in Bahrain that began in February, were politically motivated and unfair, Amnesty International said today.A military court in Bahrain’s capital city Manama has over the last few days sentenced the 15 activists, in two separate cases, to between one and four years imprisonment for “participating in illegal demonstrations and inciting hatred against the regime” during popular protests in February and March.One of the activists, Fadhila Mubarak Ahmad, is the first woman protester to be convicted as a result of the recent unrest in Bahrain. She was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.“These trials and convictions represent yet further evidence of the extent to which the rights to freedom of speech and assembly are now being denied in Bahrain,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for Middle East and North Africa.“These 15 activists appear to have been sentenced to jail terms for doing no more than exercizing their legitimate right to demonstrate against the government. If this is correct and they have been convicted solely because of their peaceful anti-government activities, they are prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally,” he added.The 15 people were detained without arrest warrants, were not allowed visits from their families while in detention and were permitted only very limited access to lawyers.“The manner in which these trials were conducted – with civilian defendants brought before a secretive military court from which international observers have been barred – – is highly alarming. It is indicative of the diminishing space for human rights in Bahrain right now, “Malcolm Smart added. Another Bahraini protester and leading human rights activist, ‘Abdulhadi al-Khawaja,  told a military court in another trial in Manama that he was threatened with rape by police while being held in incommunicado detention. He was immediately removed from the courtroom after making the allegations.‘Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is among a group of 21 Bahraini opposition figures currently on trial for leading and taking part in the demonstrations in February and March. Seven of the 21 men are being tried in their absence.While in detention ‘Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is said to have been told to record a videotaped apology to the King of Bahrain and to have been threatened with rape by four police officers when he refused.  ‘Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and the other 13 opposition members have been denied visits from their families in prison. Lawyers have been granted very limited access to them.“The Bahraini authorities must immediately launch an independent investigation into ‘Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s torture allegations and bring to justice any officials responsible for torture or other ill-treatment,” .said Malcolm Smart. “The government must uphold its obligation to protect detainees from such abuse.”This story was updated on 19 May, 2011, after receiving additional information about the cases. The story originally said eight activists were convicted.