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Detained human rights activists allege mistreatment at opening of trial

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is deeply concerned about the conditions in which Bahrain's detained human rights activists are being held, and calls for an end to their mistreatment and for their families and lawyers to have access to them. Independent experts should also be allowed access in order to evaluate their state of health and the mistreatment allegations.

The trial of a total of 25 human rights activists and opposition supporters who were arrested in August and September 2010 began on 28 October before a criminal court in Manama. At the end of the hearing, presiding judge Ibrahim al-Zayed ordered an adjournment until 11 November.

The defendants are being prosecuted on more than ten different charges including terrorism and defamation but the original charge of plotting to overthrow the government has been dropped. They all pleaded not guilty.

All the defendants, including bloggers Abdeljalil Al-Singace and Ali Abdulemam, reportedly complained of being denied access to their families and lawyers and being kept in solitary confinement. Defendants also told the court they had been tortured. They said they had been beaten and deprived of sleep since their arrests.

Nazar Sadeq al Baharna, the minister responsible for humanitarian affairs, denied the allegations, insisting that Bahrain had a zero tolerance policy towards torture. The government issued a statement saying an expert examined 13 of the 25 defendants and found no sign of mistreatment other than "light marks" on the wrists caused by handcuffs.

According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, blogger Abdulemam eportedly told the court: "I was subjected to torture, beatings, insults and verbal abuse. They threatened to dismiss my wife and other family members from their jobs. I was interrogated without a lawyer and an officer who appeared to be from the National Security dismissed my denials. He never allowed me to respond to the questions he was asking, but rather answered them himself."

Blogger Al-Singace told the court that he had been subjected to "mental and physical" torture and that his interrogators threatened to rape members of his family. He also said he had been denied the medical care he needed and had been given no medicine although his health was deteriorating rapidly.

International observers said only one relative of each defendant was allowed to attend the trial. Observers from Human Rights Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Human Rights Society were denied access to the courtroom.

A large number of riot police, backed by helicopters, were deployed around the court building to prevent any demonstration in support of the defendants.
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