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Detained Bahraini rights activists denied a fair trial in their first court hearing

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has followed the details of the first trial session of 50 Bahraini citizens in the case known as the February 14 Youth Coalition Cell which the Bahraini authorities claimed to uncover on 12 June 2013.

Most of those arrested as part of the cell are political and/or human rights activists who were targeted for expressing their views and for their participation in peaceful protests. In what has now become a regular trend, the authorities accused them of different criminal charges related to terrorism in order to give them harsh sentences after a trial which lacks the minimum standards of fair trials.

On 11 July 2013, the 50 citizens' trial began at the Fourth Criminal Court, which was newly established and began operating on 10 July 2013 with the case of “AlDair Bombing” and the possession of shotguns case in Karzakan. The judge heading this court is Judge Ali Khalifa AlDhahrani, son of the current chairman of Parliament Khalifa AlDhahrani.

This is the same judge who ruled in the cases known as the “Bahrain 13”(of political and human rights leaders), as well as those of medical staff and Mahdi Abu Deeb; in addition to most of the cases at the courts of national safety, which are military courts used for civilians during that period. The assisting judges at the Fourth Criminal Court were: Judge Hamad AlKhalifa, a member of ruling family, and Judge Jassim Ajlan.

It was evident from this first session that the trial lacked even the most basic standards of a fair trial according to international standards. Despite all present defendants making allegations of the use of torture to extract confessions, the judge refused to note their allegations or to release them on bail. This is in spite of the clear threat of further torture if the defendants are sent back to prison. At some point during the session, human rights activist Naji Fateel removed his shirt to show the visible signs of torture, but the judge quickly moved on to another detainee. The next hearing was set to 25 July without approving the request of the lawyers to have access to the case documents.

Detainee Rihana Almousawi spoke in court of how she was stripped of all her clothes during detention, as part of the torture. She was then reportedly threatened with rape and electric shocks by male officers.

The judge didn't note down the full details of what she described, instead, it was noted in the trial report that she received “improper moral treatment”. BCHR also received reports that she was forced to stand naked in front of an open door so that those outside could see her. This is in addition to the other forms of physical and psychological torture she was subjected to.

She was blindfolded, denied food and water for an entire day, and beaten on her legs. She was reportedly taken five times to a masked officer who was telling her what she had to say in her confession, after which she was told she would be tortured more severely if she denied the charges against her.

Despite her health and mental situation she was taken to the public prosecution where she was interrogated for several hours before a lawyer was allowed to be present. She fell unconscious during the interrogation and the prosecutor only allowed a 15 minute break before commencing the interrogation. The prosecutor asked Almousawi leading questions although she denied the charges against her of being a member of the February 14 Coalition Cell.

Detainee Hameed Abbas AlSafi was arrested on 9 March 2013 after his apartment was raided. When he tried to escape, he was shot with a teargas canister in the head hampering his movement. A group of policemen then gathered and reportedly beat him with batons which injured his body; signs were clear on his hands and legs. Despite clearly visible signs, the judge refused to note them down in the trial report.

Detainee Mohammed Alsingace stated that he was tortured from the moment of his arrest, whereby he was in bed as policemen began beating him with an unknown machine causing him to bleed and fall unconscious. While being unconscious, they beat and kicked him mostly on the back, hands and head. The signs are still visible on Alsingace as he entered the court with hands that looked abnormal, in addition to a wound on his head, and neck pain which he still suffers from.

In regards to detainee Essa Alghais, he asked his lawyer to not file a complaint about torture in fear of being subjected to torture again. His lawyer stated that Alghais witnessed a number of detainees being taken from prison and transferred to the Central Investigations Department (CID) building where they were reportedly tortured in revenge for either their denial of the charges made ​​against them or because they filed complaints of torture. However, Alghais decided to mention during the trial a few details of the torture he suffered, but was interrupted by the judge who did not want him to speak.

The defense team held a press conference and presented many legal violations that rendered the trial of the detainees accused with forming the February 14 Youth Coalition Cell unfair. The stated violations were as follows:

  • This is the first case to be referred to the court immediately after 60 days of arrest.
  • There are 50 defendants involved in the case, nine of whom attended the court hearing, 12 are outside Bahrain, and the rest are at Jaw Central Prison.
  • Families of the detainees, observers and human rights defenders were expelled from the court which was treated as a secret trial in an act similar to what took place at the National Safety Courts.
  • Among the charges against the defendants is disabling the provisions of the constitution and dissolving Parliament - which is headed by the judge's father Ali AlDhahrani - which can be considered a conflict of interest.
  • Among the charges against the defendants is seeking to overthrow the regime which is represented by the ruling Al Khalifa family – the family Judge Hamad Al Khalifa belongs to - which can be also be identified as a conflict of interest.
  • The judge refused to allow time to listen to the many allegations of torture made by the detainees.
  • When talking about torture, the judge gave the detainees only a minute or two to talk; in addition to refusing to write the details of their torture testimonies in the trial notes.
  • The judge refused to listen to the statements of the lawyers and their comments on the detainees' testimonies; the lawyers were not allowed to speak.
  • The judge did not note down the requests as stated by the lawyers.
  • The detainees unanimously agreed that they were threatened by the chief prosecutor, Ahmed Bucheery, whom they stated reportedly used very sectarian derogatory language. They also claimed he threatened to return them to the CID and to torture them again if they did not confess to the charges against them.
  • Judge Ali Aldhahrani refused to direct the charges to the defendants directly, instead, he assigned them with numbers and stated the charges to each number.
  • Some of the defendants involved in the case were not investigated regarding these charges.
  • The court, headed by Judge Aldhahrani, rejected all complaints made by the detainees about the Public Prosecution, he refused to make note of them in the trial notes.
  • The nine detainees who appeared before the court were not informed by prosecutors or during interrogations about their charges. They were surprised to hear their charges for the first time in the courtroom, and to discover their pictures had been broadcasted on state television naming them as members of the February 14 Youth Coalition.
  • The case is not presented in the proper format, and the lawyers worry that they are being used as a tool by the authorities in stating that defendants were assigned lawyers as per the law.
  • Investigations were not conducted in regards to the complaints of torture made ​​by most of the detainees.
  • The judge did not ask the detainees about not having assigned lawyers, nor about assigning lawyers for the upcoming sessions.
  • The judge adjourned the session when one member of the defense team used the term "The vourt is obliged". The judge repeated the word 'obliged' angrily before adjourning the session.
  • The court also did not address the fact that some detainees did not have assigned lawyers, such as detainee Rihanna Almousawi who was not allowed to appoint a lawyer since her arrest from the Formula One Circuit in April 2013. The court also ignored the requests made by the lawyers who were present, and the session was adjourned without addressing the lawyers' requests.

Based on everything stated above, BCHR demands the following:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Bahrain.
  • Ensuring the implementation of international standards related to interrogation, detention, and a fair trial, and ensuring the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and the defendants' right to innocence until proven guilty in a lawful court which meets the requirements of a fair trial.
  • The implementation of a fair and impartial investigation into all allegations of torture raised by the defendants, bringing those responsible to justice, and compensating the victims.
  • Putting an end to the massive corruption, and the violations of the Public Prosecution, and holding all prosecutors and attorneys who were involved in human rights violations accountable; especially those who practiced torture, threats or defamation and retaliation against the defendants.
  • The prosecution of all those involved in the National Safety Courts (military) in regards to the violations committed against the defendants.

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