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Lawyers boycott trial, protesting torture of activists

Demonstrator holding picture of Abduljalil Alsingace outside court at October hearing.
Demonstrator holding picture of Abduljalil Alsingace outside court at October hearing.


While riot police surrounded a Bahraini court in the capital Manama, and helicopters flew overhead to derail demonstrations in support of 25 Bahraini human rights activists, bloggers and clerics on trial last week, furious defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom in protest over the torture of detainees, report the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Bahraini authorities continue to harass and arrest anyone expressing support for the detainees.

At the 9 December trial, defence lawyer Jalila Al-Sayed said, "We are withdrawing because the court is taking no account of our calls for an investigation into the torture allegations. We now consider this trial to be unjust and contrary to international standards and we refuse to be a party to it." The withdrawal forces authorities to appoint a new defense team, with the trial adjourned until 23 December.

In this ongoing offensive against opposition activists, the 25 defendants are being prosecuted on more than ten different charges including terrorism and defamation; the original charge of plotting to overthrow the government has been dropped. Some of the charges carry a life sentence, said one lawyer. Members of BCHR, Human Rights Watch, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and women's rights activist Ghada Jamsheer have been repeatedly barred from hearings. In addition, the public prosecutor imposed a gag order on media covering the case since 27 August, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

ANHRI sent an observation team to the trial on 9 December, composed of Matthew Moriarty, a lawyer from the United Kingdom and Ahmed Mansoor, a rights activist from the region.

The detainees, including prominent bloggers Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace and Ali Abdulemam, who established BahrainOnline in 1999, as well as Dr. Mohammed Saeed, a board member of BCHR, said they had been tortured during their court appearance on 28 October. The bloggers also said interrogators threatened to rape family members and dismiss them from their jobs. During a hearing in November, detainee Mohamed Habib Al-Miqdad said all the defendants had been subjected to torture, electric shocks or humiliating insults. After speaking out about the abuse, including being forced to stand for days, being hung and deprived of sleep, detainees were severely beaten again, say local rights groups and IFEX members.

Furthermore, anyone challenging the brutality of the regime towards detainees is being targeted. BCHR president Nabeel Rajab was detained for over an hour at the airport on 2 December as he was on his way to Greece. He was threatened, his laptop and mobile phone were confiscated and all files and information on these devices were copied. Last week, Rajab was expelled from an Internet café to stop him from sending trial updates on Facebook and Twitter, but his Twitter feeds continue to be an excellent live source of news during the trials. In recent months, authorities have ramped up efforts to discredit him with smear campaigns.

In a separate case, BCHR reported that four young men were also on trial in December for carrying a banner with pictures of victims of torture. Authorities claim the banner was an act of inciting hatred against the regime. One of the activists, Hassan Abdullah Al-Qassim, was also sentenced to one year in prison in October for distributing documents revealing human rights violations committed by authorities and photos of tortured detainees.

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