Bahraini health workers released on bail will continue to face military trial

Thirteen Bahraini health workers facing trial before a military court apparently over treating some of those injured during a government crackdown on pro-reform protests  were released on bail yesterday. All 13 are part of an original group of 48 health workers, mostly from al-Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, arrested in March and April 2011 during the protests.The trial will resume on 26 September at the National Safety Court of First Instance, a military court established under the state of emergency in force from March to June 2011.Days before the trial session all detained health workers started a hunger strike in protest at their detention. Two were too weak to attend the trial. Many have complained of torture and other ill-treatment during their detention.Charges against some of the health workers include hiding weapons and explosives in the hospital, as well as attempting to overthrow the regime by force. However, the court has failed to provide any evidence of that. “Civilians should not be tried before a military court whose proceedings do not meet international standards for fair trial,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.”It is widely believed that the real reason for the detention and trial of these health workers is the fact that they provided medical assistance to people injured during the protests and that they spoke out against the government crackdown to international media.”If this is true and these health workers are convicted and imprisoned on 26 September, we will consider them prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.”The authorities must also carry out a full and independent investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and bring to justice any officials responsible.”The 48 health workers were previously split into two groups, one of 20 accused of felonies, or more serious offences, and the other of 28 accused of misdemeanours, or less serious offences.Trial proceedings for both groups started in early June.All those accused of misdemeanours were released on bail before the end of June. Their case will resume on 24 October before an ordinary court.The thirteen released yesterday were part of the group of 20 accused of felonies. Another six were released on bail between June and August and one is being tried in absentia.Their trial will continue before a military court despite reported assurances made by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in August that all trials related to the pro-reform protests would be held in civilian courts.Yesterday’s trial was attended by an Amnesty International observer, representatives of the French, British and US embassies and two Bahraini NGOs.Amnesty International’s observer said that during the seven-hour trial session the president of the court did not give the defence witnesses enough time to speak. He kept interrupting them and sometimes prevented them from giving evidence. The judge announced that the  verdict will be given during the next trial session on 26 September.Amnesty international is concerned that this would mean the court is effectively rejecting a pending request made by lawyers that it listens to each defendant’s testimony about their arrest and treatment while in custody.