Special courts set up under the State of National Safety have begun hearing cases and passing sentences. At the end of April, death sentences were imposed on four young men after proceedings that fell short of international fair trial standards. A military court trial, held behind closed doors, convicted them of the murder of two policemen during protests in March. Death sentences were imposed on: Ali Abdullah Hassan Al Sankis, Qassim Hassan Matar Ahmad, Saeed Abduljalil Saeed and Abdulaziz Abdulridha Ibrahim Hussain. Three others were given life sentences.
The military courts have started to convene almost daily, convicting and sentencing people. On May 12, 12 people were sentenced to a year in prison for participating in demonstrations, and on the same day, 29 year-old nurse Hassan Salman al-Matooq was sentenced to three years in prison for fabricating photos and participating in demonstrations.
A large show trial opened on Sunday May 9, featuring 21 leading human rights activists, political opponents, bloggers, and others. The 21 suspects are being tried (seven of them in absentia) before the Lower National Safety Court. 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.
Human Rights First attempted to gain entry to the trial on its second day, Thursday May 12, but was refused entry at the courtroom door despite assurances from the Bahraini authorities that human rights organizations and other observers would be admitted.
The government contends this is not a military trial, but that the court is a hybrid one consisting of three judges – one military and two civilian. However, the trial is being held at the military court, and is conducted in a heavily militarized atmosphere, with dozens of armed, uniformed soldiers (some in back masks) in and around the court building. According to those in court, the military judge is in charge of proceedings, and the two civilian judges do not speak. “They are only there for show,” someone at the hearings told Human Rights First. The public prosecutor is also from the military.
Relatives of the defendants who saw them in court told Human Rights First they were in bad physical and mental shape. 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. Their families say they are all being held in solitary confinement.
Leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is among those charged. His wife and his daughter, Zeinab, had been allowed a 10-minute meeting with him on May 8. 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.
On the first day of the hearing Abdulhadi Al Khawaja asked the judge for assurances from the court that defendants would no longer be tortured. On the second day, he told the court that earlier that morning the guards at the court had threatened to kill him. On May 16, the third day of the trial, he was ejected from the court after telling the judge that three days before he had been taken from his cell by security guards and threatened with rape. His family fears for his life, and worry that his speaking out puts him in greater danger.
The 13 others who are present at the trial are 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.
The seven 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.
These trials fall far below international standards of fairness and due process. The claims of torture by the defendants should be urgently investigated, and those held for peacefully expressing their views immediately freed.