Trial of Bahraini opposition activists adjourned as observers barred

The military trial today of a group of 21 Bahraini opposition activists charged over their involvement in anti-government protests has been adjourned until 16 May.In a brief proceeding, the 14 defendants in the court in the capital Manama on Thursday denied all the charges against them. Seven others are being tried in absentia. The mainly Shi’a activists have been charged with a series of alleged crimes related to weeks of protest, including running a terrorist organization with the aim of toppling the ruling Sunni-led government. Amnesty International has called on Bahraini authorities to grant the men a fair trial, citing abuses of their basic legal rights and fears that two, including prominent human rights defender ‘Abdelhadi al-Khawaja, have been tortured in detention. “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, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.“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.”Independent observers from Frontline and Human Rights First said they were denied entry to the court.The military prosecutor refused a request from several of the defendants to speak on their own behalf. Upon being led out of the court, ‘Abdelhadi al-Khawaja reportedly shouted that he had been threatened and feared his life was in danger.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. Like hundreds of others detained in connection with the protests, the men have been denied visits from their families. Lawyers have been granted very limited access to them throughout their arrest and detention.