Bahrain military court to rule on appeal of jailed opposition activists

A military court in Manama is due to hand down its verdict on 28 September on an  appeal brought by a group of prominent opposition activists in Bahrain after they were jailed in one of the ongoing trials linked to pro-reform protests earlier this year. The military-run National Safety Court of Appeal is expected to confirm or overturn the conviction of 14 people jailed for their alleged roles in mass demonstrations at the capital’s GCC Roundabout (formerly Pearl Roundabout) in February and March 2011. Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the unfair military trials at the National Safety Court of First Instance, which convicted and sentenced the 14 along with seven others who were tried in absentia. There has been no independent investigation into allegations by some of the defendants that they were tortured in pre-trial detention, when they were held incommunicado. “These opposition leaders were tried and sentenced by a court that is neither independent nor impartial,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “We believe some or all of them may be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned possibly solely for their participation in peaceful protests.” “It was quite wrong for the government to send civilians for trial before military courts to penalize them for their participation in anti-government protests.”The defendants were previously sentenced to between two years and life imprisonment, on charges that included “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”  They all deny the charges. The military prosecution is said to have failed to provide any substantive evidence to show that the accused used or advocated violence during the protests. An Amnesty International observer attended the appeal hearing session for the group on 6 September, where defence lawyers asked the presiding judge to hear the defendants’ testimony about alleged abuses during their arrest and interrogation, including beatings and other ill-treatment. “The detention and trials of these activists and others linked to pro-reform protests in Bahrain have been riddled with problems that tainted the legal proceedings,” said Malcolm Smart. “Bahrain’s authorities must carry out a thorough and independent investigation into allegations that detainees were tortured and otherwise abused in custody, and bring to justice those responsible.”Hundreds of Bahrainis have been arrested since pro-reform demonstrations began in central Manama in February and March, and scores of health workers, activists, teachers and others have faced military trials that have failed to meet international fair trial standards. On 25 September, another military court sentenced the former president and vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association to 10 and three years in prison, respectively, after convicting them on protest-related charges that they deny.