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Activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja bears signs of abuse

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Washington, DC, May 10, 2011 - A prominent rights activist who was active in Bahrain's pro-democracy street protests appeared before a special military court on May 8, 2011, bearing visible signs of ill-treatment and perhaps torture, Human Rights Watch said today.

The activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was one of 14 defendants, most active with opposition political movements, charged with attempting to "topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country." His wife and daughter spoke with him briefly after the court session, the first time they had been allowed to see him since he was arrested and badly beaten on April 9. They observed multiple facial injuries, and he told them he had four fractures on the left side of his face, including one in his jaw that had required four hours of corrective surgery.

"It appears that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's jailers tortured him during the month they held him in incommunicado detention," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Torture or ill-treatment is a serious crime, and Bahraini officials who did or authorized this treatment need to be held accountable."

Human Rights Watch has documented the routine use of torture by Bahraini security officials during similar interrogations in political and security-related cases.

The National Safety Lower Court postponed resuming the trial until May 12 to allow defense lawyers to meet with their clients, and in some cases to appoint their own lawyers. The case was brought by the military prosecutor, and a military judge presides over the sessions. Bahrain's police and military have operated under martial law, termed a "state of national safety," since March 15.

The 13 defendants who appeared before the special court with al-Khawaja are Abd al-Wahab Hussain, Ebrahim Sharif, Hassan Mushaima, Abd al-Jalil al-Singace, Mohammed Habib al-Saffaf (al-Moqdad), Saeed Mirza Ahmed, Abd al-Jalil al-Moqdad, Abd a-Hadi Abdullah Mahdi Hassan, Al-Hurr Yusif Mohammed, Abdullah Isa al-Mahroos, Salah al-Khawaja, Mohammed Hassan Jawad, and Mohammed Ali Ismael.

Seven others being tried in abstentia in the same case are Akeel Ahmad al-Mafudh, Ali Hassan Abdullah, Abd al-Ghani al-Khanjar, Saeed Abd al-Nabi Shihab, Abd al-Rauf al-Shayeb, Abbas al-Umran, and Ali Hassan Mushaima. Several are in hiding, presumably in Bahrain, while others have been living abroad.

Prior to the May 8 court session, Bahrain's military public prosecutor, Col. Yusif Rashid Feleyfel, had formed an investigative committee composed of several public prosecutors who questioned the 14 suspects, the state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) announced.

Prosecutors have accused the defendants of a variety of national security crimes under Bahrain's 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 Counterterrorism Law. These alleged crimes include "organizing and managing a terrorist group for the overthrow and the change of the country's constitution and the royal rule," "seeking and correspond[ing] with a terrorist organization abroad working for a foreign country to conduct heinous acts" against Bahrain, funding a foreign terrorist organization, insulting the army, "broadcasting false news and rumors" that threatened public security, inciting sectarianism, and organizing and participating in rallies without having obtained the necessary permits.

"Some of these charges, like insulting the army, should not be crimes at all, and it looks like at least in Abdulhadi-al-Khawaja's case the authorities have tried to beat a confession out of him rather than come up with evidence to support these charges," Stork said.

( . . . )
To read the full press release, click here

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