Bahrain puts opposition leaders and activists on trial

MANAMA Sun May 8, 2011 7:09am EDT

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain put 21 mostly Shi'ite activists, including a prominent hardline dissident, on trial on Sunday, charged with trying to topple the government during weeks of protests in February and March.

Bahrain, a Sunni-ruled island kingdom, cracked down on the protests demanding greater political freedoms, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination.

The crackdown, in which neighboring Sunni-led Gulf states sent troops to back Bahrain's forces, has boosted regional tension with Iran, which Bahrain accuses of manipulating its Shi'ite co-religionists to expand its influence.

Those on trial on Sunday face a hybrid civilian-military court where military prosecutors try the case before a panel of one military and two civilian judges.

Those on trial include Shi'ite dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition group Haq who has called for the overthrow of the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy, and Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group that has called for a constitutional monarchy but has not joined those seeking to oust the king.

Bahrain's state news agency said the defendants were accused of involvement in an "attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country."

Rights groups said the defendants should be tried before civil courts, saying the military courts did not allow the accused to defend themselves properly.

"Lawyers were called less than 24 hours before the trial started. They did not have time to prepare," Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told Reuters.

State media said the men were accused of organizing and managing a terrorist group bent on toppling the government and corresponding with a terrorist group abroad working for a foreign country against Bahrain, among other charges.

RIGHTS CRITICISM

The state news agency did not say what penalty military prosecutors were seeking in the case. Rights activists say Bahrain's anti-terrorism law could make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted on the most serious counts. Of the 21 defendants, seven were being tried in absentia.

International human rights groups and Western nations have criticized Bahrain's military trials in the wake of the unrest by mostly Shi'ite protesters.

A Bahraini court last month sentenced four men to death after they were convicted in a brief trial of killing two policemen by running over them in their cars.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday it had received credible reports that one of the 21 defendants, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, had been hospitalized after beatings while in custody.

Bahrain denies there is torture in its prisons and says all such accusations will be investigated.

Minister for Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa rejected the criticism and said even under Bahrain's current martial law all suspects would get fair trials and would have the right to appeal verdicts.

"Bahrain is keen to honor its international obligations and respect human rights covenants," he said in remarks carried by pro-government media on Sunday.

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Comments (3)
ahmedradhi_bh wrote:
it is confusing and amazing news that bahrain political leader put before a military court 12 accusations (accusations 1-4) were funny and they don’t Match att all, the remaining (5-12) accusations were the very universal human rights demands everybody around the world are asking the government of bahrain to respect the rights of the people freedom of expression.

in the other hand the people of Bahrain seeking justice in international criminal court of justice with all the evidence of the Bahraini Government crimes documented including allegation of torture as 4 detained tortured to death. wittensed by human right watch and amensty international and physician beyond borders and all the newspapers and international media, direct inspections of their bodies.

the government of Bahrain have lost the people of Bahrain, and lost the legitimacy while its military court has lost the credibility to deliver justice.

May 08, 2011 11:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
As a Bahraini, I find the first paragraph as either very funny or very sad, because everytime the wrong information is repeated some tend to beleive it. The King is Sunni but has always been a father figure who promotes healthy inter-religion, inter-racial, and inter-cultural homogenity evident by the diverse nature of his aapointed cabinet and Shura (councelors) who come from all walks of life in Bahrain. Bahrain has Jews, Christians, Hindu, and Muslims from many races. Bahrain is already Constitutional Monarchy! It’s only 9 years old, but it is already a Constitutional Monarchy. And at the end of the 1st paragraph it says a demand to “end sectarian discrimination”, this is so funny because now it has been uncovered that the demonstrators were actually led by sectarian supremacists who have been found to practice discrimination against all others in order to promote their sect, evident by their employing only their sect into ministries which they have a minister, and in any company (private and NGOs) where they have a CEO or a GM then the HR Manager is from their sect and is discriminating in recruiting and promotion, edging out anyone not from their “sect”.

You have to mind that as a Bahraini, i find this frustrating, having to explain that because of these practices, me, a sunni muslim, have had to seek employment outside Bahrain. And that despite all thr freedoms that they have been given and have utilized more efficiently than the silent majority, they were the ones who demonstrated wanting to overthorw the government. Now i want some affirmative action, and i am not alone. I was never into politics, but now after this demonstration i will practice my right because it seems that my silence has been misconstrued as acceptance.

May 08, 2011 12:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
How can you say “Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group” isn’t that a contradiction in terms? How can he be Sunni if he is Secular? He can either be Sunni or Secular, but not the two!

May 08, 2011 12:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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