Concerns over fair trail rights cloud Bahrain activist verdicts

Nadeen Shaker , Sunday 6 Oct 2013

While Bahrain's government claims that citizens enjoy rights to fair trails, the recent sentencing of over 50 Bahrainis in a politically connected case suggests otherwise

Anti-government protesters holding Bahraini flags and signs saying ''No To Official Terror (Photo: Reuters)

Last Sunday, 50 Bahrainis, including one woman, were given heavy sentences for their part in forming a revolutionary coalition. The ruling raised questions about the fairness of politically linked trials in the energy-rich Arab Gulf country.

The court accused members of the 14 February Revolution Youth Coalition with "terrorism," slapping 16 defendants with 15-year prison terms, four others receiving 10 years and the other 30 sentenced to five years behind bars, according to AFP. Among those implicated is prominent Iraqi cleric Hadi Al-Mudaressi.

Ali Alaswad, a member of the opposition Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, puts the numbers involved much higher. “Ninty-five Bahrainis in total were convicted to a total of 808 years," he said. “The regime seems intent on locking up anyone and everyone who opposes them.”

Alaswad takes issue with the judiciary overseeing the trails, which he sees as “politicised” and “run by a small minority from the ruling family.”

In a joint press statement, 13 human rights organisations from across the Arab world questioned the impartiality of the Bahraini judiciary, citing that the judicial panel involved in the case included the son of the speaker of parliament and a member of the ruling family.

The judge presiding over the trials has a record of handing down harsh prison sentences to dozens of political and human rights activists, including via exceptional trials in quasi-military courts, the joint press statement added.

The majority of the defendants were tried in absentia, fearing that the sessions would be mere “show trials for predetermined sentences,” the statement mentioned.

A report by Amnesty International highlights defendant allegations that they made confessions under duress of torture. Such allegations were not considered by the court.

“The allegations that confessions were extracted under torture must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and independently, with those responsible brought to justice,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa programme director at Amnesty International.

According to the defendants charge sheet, provided by AFP, "terrorism was among the means used (by the group)," which also had "contact with a foreign state," in reference to Shia Iran — an allegation that goes back to 2011 uprising.

Said Boumedouha, a researcher with Amnesty International, told Ahram Online that many of the defendants “did not commit any serious offences.” One, Abd Ali Khair, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for forwarding an email containing a statement by the 14 February Revolution Youth Coalition. 

“What we are seeing in all these cases is really just a continuation of the military courts that existed in 2011 and were condemned by the BICI (Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry) report,” Alaswad said.

The Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry was tasked by the Bahraini king with investigating the events of February and March 2011.

According to Bahrain’s government website, it has fulfilled the BICI report’s recommendation on ensuring fair trails, stating: “All live cases are being reviewed in the ordinary courts to ensure fair trial rights have been complied with in cases before the National Safety Courts (NSC).”

This claim is contested by many.

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