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Bahrain: Dozens of activists on trial before military courts

Human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer just latest on trial

Military trials against dozens of people accused of charges related to recent pro-reform protests in Bahrain continued this week amid allegations of torture and claims the proceedings are unfair and politically-motivated, said Amnesty International today.

Among those on trial in the special military court in Manama are a prominent human rights lawyer and 48 medical staff arrested after they treated protesters wounded in February and March demonstrations. Bahrain’s government set up the special military court - which is presided over by one military and two civilian judges - under a National Safety Law put in place in response to the protests. The law was revoked on 1 June.

Mohammed al-Tajer, a well-known lawyer who works to defend human rights and opposition activists, was brought before the court on 12 June. The Bahraini authorities have not said where he is being detained and did not notify his family and lawyers before beginning his trial, which is set to resume on 16 June.

He had been arrested at his home in Manama on 15 April and has been charged with offences including “spreading rumours” and inciting hatred of the Bahraini government. Amnesty considers Mohammed al-Tajer a prisoner of conscience targeted for his work as a human rights lawyer as well as for being an outspoken critic of the government.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Philip Luther said:

“We fear this lawyer and many of the health workers have been detained solely for political reasons after they defended or treated pro-reform protesters and spoke out against the authorities in the media.

“Where this is the case, we would consider the detainees to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release.

“Independent witnesses who were present at Salamaniya hospital have said that the charges against the health workers are preposterous - that the doctors and nurses were merely doing their jobs, tending to people injured in clashes with security forces.

“The Bahraini authorities must immediately open an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and must throw out any confessions or other evidence extracted under duress.”

The trial of 48 medical workers resumed yesterday following earlier complaints that lawyers did not have sufficient access to their clients. The next session is due to take place on 20 June.

The Bahraini government alleges the Salamaniya Medical Complex, where many of the medical staff worked, served as a co-ordination centre for pro-reform protests in February and March, and has accused the workers of, among other things, stealing medicines, stockpiling arms, giving anti-government statements to international media outlets and inciting hatred of the regime. The defendants have had very little access to their families and some allege they have been tortured in detention and forced to sign confessions. Several of the defendants have already been released on bail.  

The military court on Sunday sentenced a young female activist to a year in prison for charges related to her public recital of a poem critical of Bahrain’s King.

On the same day, Matar Matar and Jawad Feiruz, two former members of parliament representing al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s biggest Shi’a political party, were put on trial. Charges against them include propagating false information, participating in unauthorised demonstrations and urging people to demonstrate against the government.

At least 500 people have been detained since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.

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