For Immediate Release: May 12, 2011
Manama, Bahrain — Human Rights First is gravely concerned at today’s unfair trial in Bahrain of 21 suspects involved in recent protests calling for greater respect for human rights and democracy in the island kingdom.
Human Rights First was refused entry at the courtroom door this morning despite assurances from the Bahraini authorities that human rights organizations and other observers would be admitted. “Relatives of the defendants who were permitted access told us they looked in bad physical and mental shape,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. “Several were limping and others have suffered drastic weight loss. They have not had adequate time to consult their lawyers, and there are credible reports of their torture in custody.”
The 21 suspects before the Lower National Safety Court today include prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders. They have been charged with various national security crimes, including “insulting the army,” “organizing and managing a terrorist group for the overthrow and the change of the country’s constitution and the royal rule,” and “seeking and correspond[ing] with a terrorist organization abroad working for a foreign country to conduct heinous acts.” Some of these charges carry the death penalty.
“The hearing today was conducted in a heavily militarized atmosphere,” said Dooley. “The court buildings were full of armed soldiers, some wearing black masks.” Leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is among those charged. His wife and daughter Zeinab were allowed a 10-minute meeting with him on Sunday. Zeinab told Human Rights First that his face had been badly damaged with multiple fractures while in the custody of security forces. He had undergone a four-hour operation in the military hospital. “But when he was supposed to be recovering from the operation they tortured him again,” she said.
He was in court today with 13 others – Abdulwahab Hussain Ali Ahmed, Ibrahim Sharif Abdulraheem Mossa, Hassan Ali Mushaima, Abduljalil Abdullah Al Singace, Mohammed Habib Al Saffaf, Saeed Mirza Ahmed, Abduljalil Radhi Mansoor Makki (Abduljalil Al Muqdad), Abdulhadi Abdulla Mahdi Hassan, Al Hurr Yousif Mohammed, Abdullah Isa Al Mahroos, Salah Hubail Al Khawaja, Mohammed Hassan Jawad and Mohammed Ali Ismael. Seven more being tried in absentia are: Akeel Ahmed Al Mafoodh, Ali Hassan Abdullah, Abdulghani Ali Khanjar, Saeed Abdulnabi Shehab, Abdulraoof Al Shayeb, Abbas Al Umran and Ali Hassan Mushaima. The court adjourned until Monday May 16.
The special courts consist of two civilian judges and one military judge in a process which falls far short of international fair trial standards. Another international legal observer was also refused admission to the court despite Sunday’s official statement announcing that “attending trials is permitted for all civil society institutions, human rights organizations and media representatives to reflect the Kingdom’s keenness to respect its international commitments in the field of human rights.”
“The U.S. government needs to take a stronger stance in support of peaceful protesters in Bahrain demanding their legitimate rights for an end to discrimination and for a more representative government,” said Dooley. “Hesitation and perceived weakness in support of human rights in a close U.S. ally like Bahrain weakens U.S. support for peaceful democratic change throughout the region.”