By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
MANAMA, Bahrain – On Tuesday, 28 February, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) called upon Bahrain to release hundreds of pro-democracy activists arrested last year and to drop all charges against them. HRW also urged the country to void people’ convictions from civil and military courts that do not meet international fair trial standards.
HRW’s 94-page report, “No Justice in Bahrain: Unfair Trials in Military and Civilian Courts,” highlighted the county’s due process violations during politically motivated trials in criminal courts since 2010 and high-profile trials by special military courts in 2011.
In March 2011, King Hamad organized special military courts during the country’s three-month “State of National Safety”, a quasi state of emergency. Since 4 April 2011, Bahrain’s military officials tried and convicted hundreds of people charged under “national safety” grounds. Civilian courts began accepting the trials and appeals of these people charged in the uprising on 7 October 2011.
In its report, HRW emphasized the violations through two case studies. First, the court convicted twenty doctors of inciting to overthrow the government and trying to occupy a hospital. Second, security forces jailed fourteen political activists for leading protests. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a jailed activist with Danish nationality, has conducted a hunger strike for the past two weeks.
HRW asserted the violations of fair trial rights include denying defendants the right to present a defense and to counsel along with failing to investigate torture allegations during interrogations. These violations reflect systemic failures in the country’s criminal justice system rather than deficient practices of judges and prosecutors.
Furthermore, HRW has documented continued exercise of ill-treatment and torture by Bahraini security officers. In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (“BICI”) published that at least five people detained for engaging in peaceful protests died from torture. The government pledged to implement recommendations by this Commission, including police and judicial procedural reforms. However, earlier this month Amnesty International reported the government remained “far from delivering the human rights changes.”
Moreover, HRW requested France, the United Kingdom, and the United State halt military and security-related sales and assistance to the country until Bahrain address these human rights violations.
HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said, “King Hamad should examine the special military courts he set up by decree before claiming there are no political prisoners in Bahrain…In case after case, people were convicted for their political beliefs, for the slogans they chanted, and for joining large peaceful rallies that the Crown Prince had publicly proclaimed were protected by Bahrain’s constitution.”
For further information, please see:
Dalje – Bahrain Trials Lack Due Processs – 28 Feb 2012
Human Rights Watch – Bahrain: Hundreds Railroaded in Unjust Trials – 28 Feb 2012
The Daily News: Egypt – HRW Calls On Bahrain To Release Democracy Activists – 28 Feb 2012
The Daily Star: Lebanon – Bahrain Should Shelve Trials Linked To Protests: Group – 28 Feb 2012