Fair trial urged for Bahraini opposition activists
A military trial on Thursday for a group of 21 prominent Bahraini opposition activists must meet international fair trial standards, Amnesty International said today amid continuing reports of torture. The mainly Shi’a activists have been charged with alleged crimes in relation to weeks of pro-reform protest in Bahrain that began in February. “Bahraini authorities have already denied the defendants their basic legal rights and at least two have said they were tortured, raising fears about their chances for a fair trial in this military court,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.Among the charges levelled against the defendants are that they set up “terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution”, insulted the army, incited hatred, disseminated false information, and took part in rallies without notifying the authorities. Bahraini authorities also allege the men raised funds for and have “links to a foreign terrorist organization”, purportedly Hizbullah.Amnesty International believes that many of the defendants are likely to be prisoners of conscience detained simply for exercising their right to peacefully express their political views in public. “Those that are detained for nothing more than peacefully taking to the streets and demanding political change must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther.The defendants, like hundreds of others detained in connection with the protests, have been denied visits from their families. Lawyers have been granted very limited access to them, and were allowed during questioning by the Military Prosecutor, but not during National Security Agency interrogations following the defendants’ arrests. At least two of the defendants, ‘Abdelhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender, and Ebrahim Sharif, the leader of Waad, a secular political party, were reportedly tortured following their arrest. ‘Abdelhadi al-Khawaja reportedly suffered severe injuries to his face and skull as a result and was admitted to the Bahrain Defence Force hospital for six days. Bahrain’s military prosecutor has prohibited the activists’ lawyers and families from speaking publicly about the case. Meanwhile, government media have been orchestrating a campaign against the activists.“Bahrain’s government has stacked the deck against the defendants and there is very little chance they can receive a fair trial in the current circumstances,” said Philip Luther. “The authorities need to ensure that allegations of torture are fully investigated, that any evidence extracted as a result is discarded and that the lawyers can meaningfully defend their clients.”The 14 prominent Bahraini opposition activists who will appear before a military court on Thursday are: Hassan Mshaima’, leader of the al-Haq movement (a Shi’a opposition group); Ebrahim Sharif, a Sunni and leader of Waad; Abdelwahab Hussain, leader of al-Wafa’, a Shi’a opposition group; ‘AbdeHadi al-Khawaja; Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, a leading member of al-Haq; Mohammad Habib al-Muqdad; Abdel-Jalil al-Muqdad; Saeed Mirza Ahmad; Abdullah al-Mahroos; Abdulhadi ‘Abdullah Hassan; Al-Hur Yousef al-Somaikh; Salah ‘Abdullah Hubail; Mohammad Hassan Jawwad; and Mohammad ‘Ali Ridha Isma’il.Seven defendants will be tried in absentia, including Saeed al-Shehabi, who lives in exile in London.