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PARLIAMENTARIAN CONVICTED BY MILITARY COURT

Tunisia: Parliamentarian convicted by military court

Yassine © Private
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Yassine Ayari, a 40- year-old engineer who opposed ex-President Ben Ali’s rule, was elected member of Parliament in the 2018 partial elections, and then won a seat for his political movement Hope and Work representing Tunisians in France in the 2019 legislative elections.

On 30 July, at least 30 police officers in civilian clothes raided Yassine Ayari's home without showing an arrest warrant and took him to an unknown destination. His brother told Amnesty International that the family later learned that he had been arrested to serve a two-month sentence pronounced three years earlier on 26 June 2018 by the Tunis military court that had never been implemented due to his immunity as a member of parliament. The military court had sentenced him for a Facebook post considered defamatory of the army. In one of his posts, which warranted the new military prosecution following the 25 July presidential announcement suspending the parliament, he wrote that he would "prefer 1000 times to live in an imperfect democracy, rather than one day under the rule of [Roman Emperor] Nero." The military court ordered his arrest after the lifting of immunity of all members of parliament, ordered by President Saied on 25 July, at the same time as the suspension of parliament.
On 24 August, Yassine Ayari's lawyers filed a request for a release on parole, which the military court refused, without providing any justification.

Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice punishes with up to three years in prison anyone who “commits ... outrages against the flag or the army, offenses against the dignity, reputation or morale of the army, or acts to undermine military discipline, obedience and the respect due to superiors, or who criticizes the action of military hierarchy or the military officers, offending their dignity." At least six other parliamentarians are currently facing trial before the military court for an incident on 15 March 2021 at the airport of Tunis where they had an altercation with security officials who had implemented an arbitrary travel ban on a woman, under a procedure known as ‘S17’. The woman’s lawyer was arrested on 2 September by order of the military court and is held in pre-trial detention in the Mornaguia prison for charges of defaming the army.

Prosecutions for defaming the army or other state institutions are incompatible with Tunisia’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the covenant, issued guidance to states parties on their free speech obligations under Article 19 that emphasized the high value that the ICCPR places upon uninhibited expression “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions,” adding that, “State parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration."

Allowing the prosecution of a civilian before a military tribunal is a violation of the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees. The Resolution on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Aid in Africa noted that “[t]he purpose of Military Courts is to determining offenses of a pure military nature committed by pure military personnel."

Military courts comprised a key element in the repressive apparatus of the state under the presidencies of Habib Bourguiba, 1957-1987, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 1987-2011. Under both presidents, persons were convicted in blatantly unfair trials before military courts for political crimes. While they underwent a partial reform following Tunisia's uprising, military courts are still under the undue control of the executive branch as the President of the republic has exclusive control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors in these courts.
 

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TORTURED KURDISH MAN AT RISK OF EXECUTION

Tortured Kurdish man at risk of execution

Heidar Graphic
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There has been an alarming escalation in use of the death penalty against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups in Iran in recent months. Amnesty International is concerned that death row prisoners from Iran’s disadvantaged ethnic minorities are particularly at risk, given the authorities’ pattern of executing prisoners from these groups when concerned about the eruption of popular protests.

Article 287 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code states: “Any group that takes up arms against the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran is considered baghi and in the event of resorting to the use of arms, its members shall be sentenced to death.” According to information recorded in Heidar Ghorbani’s casefile and obtained by Amnesty International, even the investigator of the case, who works in the office of the prosecutor in Kurdistan province, stated in writing on 1 February 2017 that there is no evidence to charge Heidar Ghorbani with “armed rebellion against the state” (baghi). However, the prosecutor insisted that the indictment lists this charge apparently under the influence of security and intelligence bodies.

On 12 September 2020, Heidar Ghorbani’s lawyers appealed to the head of Iran’s judiciary to exercise the powers granted to him under Article 477 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure and order a review of the case on the basis that the verdict issued is evidently in contravention with both Iranian and Shari’a law.

Heidar Ghorbani was arrested on 12 October 2016, by about 10 ministry of intelligence officials who raided his home and failed to show an arrest warrant. For nearly three months, his family were denied any information about his fate and whereabouts and did not even know if he was dead or alive. On 5 January 2017, he was allowed to briefly call his family, but his whereabouts continued to be concealed. After this phone call, his family was again kept in the dark about his fate and whereabouts until April 2017 when he was transferred to the central prison in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province. Following his transfer to Sanandaj prison, Heidar Ghorbani revealed that while forcibly disappeared, he had been held for several days in a detention centre in Kamyaran, Kurdistan province, run by the Investigation Unit of Iran's police (Agahi), and then transferred to a ministry of intelligence detention centre in Sanandaj, where he was held in solitary confinement for several months. On 8 March 2017, Press TV, an Iranian state-owned outlet that broadcasts in English, aired a propaganda video entitled “The Driver of Death”, which featured the forced “confessions” of Heidar Ghorbani without his knowledge. In addition to violating the right to presumption of innocence and to remain silent during interrogations and trial, the mental anguish caused to detainees and their families by such “confession” videos, which generally dehumanize and demonize the victims and purport to show their “guilt” for serious crimes, violates the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law.

In addition to his trial before the Revolutionary Court, Heidar Ghorbani was also tried before Branch 1 of Criminal Court 1 of Kurdistan province for aiding and abetting murder, attempted kidnapping, assisting the direct perpetrators to escape. In this trial, he was sentenced to a total of 118 years and six months and 200 lashes on 6 October 2019.

In view of the irreversible nature of the death penalty, the proceedings in capital cases must scrupulously observe all relevant international standards protecting the right to a fair trial, no matter how heinous the crime. All individuals who risk facing the death penalty must benefit from the services of competent defence counsel at every stage of the proceedings. They must be presumed innocent until their guilt has been proved based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts, in strict application of the highest standards for gathering and assessing evidence. In addition, all mitigating factors must be taken into account.

The proceedings must guarantee the right to review of both the factual and the legal aspects of the case by a higher tribunal. Imposition of the death penalty following criminal proceedings that fall seriously short of fair trial standards constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life and may even amount to an extrajudicial execution.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International has consistently called on all countries that retain the death penalty including Iran to establish an official moratorium on executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty.
 

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DEFENDER BEATEN AND DENIED HEALTH CARE

Iran: Defender beaten and denied health care

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Alireza Farshi DizajYekan was arbitrarily arrested on 21 July 2020 to serve a two years’ imprisonment sentence following his 2017 conviction related to his peaceful human rights activities, upheld upon appeal in 2020. Alireza Farshi DizajYekan stated that during the arrest, a ministry of intelligence agent threw him flat on the asphalt, pressed down on his neck with his boot impeding his ability to breathe, and then later repeatedly slapped and punched him in the face while he was bleeding and handcuffed. Ministry of intelligence agents also confiscated and wiped clean his external hard drives, where he stored his writing, and computer coding applications he developed. He says that when he arrived to prison, despite being bloodied and in great pain, he was denied medical care for his left eye, on which he previously had surgery for an eye-condition, and other injuries sustained during the beating. After his arrest, he was taken to Tehran’s Evin prison where he repeatedly requested for the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran, a state forensic institute, to examine him and document his torture-related injuries, but his requests were dismissed. He also filed complaints with various officials to investigate his allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, but he has not been provided with any information about the status of his complaints. 

In February 2017, a Revolutionary Court in Baharestan, Tehran province, sentenced Alireza Farshi DizajYekan to 15 years’ imprisonment after convicting him of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “founding groups with the purpose of disrupting national security” for his peaceful human rights activities in support of the rights of the Azerbaijani Turkic community, including his role in submitting a letter to the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Tehran in February 2015 seeking assistance in obtaining official permission to hold a commemorative event on International Mother Language Day in Tehran. In the verdict reviewed by Amnesty International, the court cited as “evidence” of Alireza Farshi DizajYekan’s involvement in “criminal” activity his participation in meetings in 2014 in which civil society activists discussed how to best campaign on issues related to their mother language. The court also sentenced him to two years of internal exile. In January 2020, on appeal, this sentence was reduced to two-years’ imprisonment and two-years’ internal exile. See Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack for more about this 2017 case. 

While serving this unjust two-year prison sentence, Iranian authorities pursued new criminal charges against Alireza Farshi DizajYekan. Informed sources were told that the reduction of Alireza Farshi DizajYekan’s prison sentence on appeal contributed to intelligence agents pursuing a new case against him. During the grossly unfair trial in March 2021, which he said lasted five minutes, the presiding judge denied Alireza Farshi DizajYekan’s request to defend himself and his requests for handcuffs and leg shackles to be removed in court were summarily ignored, undermining his right to the presumption of innocence. Alireza Farshi DizajYekan reports that the day the verdict was issued, the judge cited as evidence of “national security offences” acts that fall within the scope of the peaceful exercise of human rights including distributing books written in Turkish, supporting the right of minorities to use their mother tongue and posting on his Instagram account about others jailed in Iran, including Azerbaijani Turkic activist Abbas Lesani. See https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3130/2020/en/ for more information.

Ethnic minorities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen face entrenched discrimination in Iran which curtails their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office. Despite ongoing calls for linguistic diversity, Persian is the sole language of instruction in primary and secondary education. Members of minority groups who speak out against human rights violations or demand a degree of regional self-government have been subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. In 2020, several Azerbaijani Turkic activists were sentenced to imprisonment and flogging in connection with the November 2019 protests and other peaceful activism on behalf of the Azerbaijani Turkic minority. Two activists had their flogging sentences carried out. See Trampling humanity: mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s November 2019 protests for more information. 
 

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TWO YOUTHS ARRESTED AT 17 FACE EXECUTION

Iran: Two youths arrested at 17 face execution

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Hossein Shahbazi was arrested on 30 December 2018 and denied access to a lawyer and his family for 11 days while undergoing interrogations at a detention facility run by the Investigation Unit of Iran's police (Agahi) in Shiraz. He was then transferred to a juvenile detention facility but still denied access to his family for several days, after which his mother was allowed to visit him. The conviction and sentencing of Hossein Shahbazi to death, in part, on the basis of an opinion from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran (LMOI) confirming his maturity at the time of the crime again highlights the complicity of doctors affiliated with the LMOI in the ongoing assault on children’s right to life in Iran. Amnesty International has previously called on the LMOI to refrain from participating in processes that inherently violate the human rights of children and facilitates their execution, and to adopt a position that all children under the age of 18 must be treated as less mature and culpable than adults, in accordance with established international principles of juvenile justice. Medical professionals have a clear duty to avoid any involvement in torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment including the death penalty. 

Arman Abdolali was first sentenced to death on 23 December 2015 after Branch 4 of the Provincial Criminal Court of Tehran convicted him of murder in connection with the disappearance of his girlfriend in 2014. In its verdict, the court stated that the way the murder was committed without leaving any trace indicated that Arman Abdolali had attained maturity and understood the nature and consequences of the crime. In reaching this decision, the court also relied on the opinion of a Children and Adolescent Court Advisor that Arman Abdolali understood the “abhorrent” nature of the crime committed. As such, the court concluded that he merited the death penalty as per Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code. On 20 July 2016, Branch 29 of Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence. Arman Abdolali was subsequently scheduled for execution on 1 January 2020, but following an international outcry his execution was halted. On 8 February 2020, Branch 15 of the Supreme Court granted Arman Abdolali’s request for a retrial after the Children and Adolescent Court Advisor involved during the original trial withdrew her initial opinion and noted in writing regret that she had issued the opinion without meeting Arman Abdolali and without having studied his criminal casefile or obtaining any information about his character. Arman Abdolali’s case was then referred to Branch 5 of Criminal Court One of Tehran Province for a retrial, which largely focused on whether there were any doubts about his maturity at the time of the crime to warrant replacing his death sentence with an alternative sentence; but the court did not consider the sufficiency of the evidence leading to his initial conviction. On 22 September 2020, Branch 5 of Criminal Court One of Tehran ruled that it was not possible to determine Arman Abdolali’s maturity years after the crime took place, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, “the prima facie presumption of full criminal responsibility” stands. This ruling highlights once again the flawed nature of Iran’s juvenile justice system, which considers that in cases of murder and certain other capital crimes, boys aged above 15 lunar years and girls aged above nine lunar years are as culpable as adults and, therefore, merit the death penalty. While Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code grants judges discretion to replace the death penalty with an alternative sentence if they find that there are doubts about the individual’s full “maturity” at the time of the crime, in practice, there are no policies and guidelines in place on the types of evidence and the standards of proof needed to rebut the presumption of maturity. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to amend Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code to completely abolish the use of the death penalty for all child offenders, without any exception or discretion for judges. 

The absolute prohibition on the use of the death penalty against persons who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime is provided in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Iran has ratified. It is also recognized as a peremptory norm of customary international law, which means it is accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a norm which is binding on all states and from which no derogation is permitted. 

In a media interview on 30 June 2021, the deputy for Iran’s Hight Council for Human Rights, Majid Tafreshi, stated “When we are talking about under-18s, we are not talking about six or five years old. We are talking about mainly 17 years old big boys (where) the court recognized their maturity”. Amnesty International recorded the execution of at least three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime in 2020. The organization has also identified over 80 other individuals on death row who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. In 2020, Iran carried out at least 246 executions.

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TORTURED PROTESTERS JAILED UNJUSTLY

Iran: Tortured protesters jailed unjustly

Habib
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Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari maintain that they peacefully participated in protests that took place in Shiraz, Fars province, between late December 2017 and early January 2018, and also between late July and early August 2018. The protesters expressed a mix of grievances ranging from complaints over poverty and corruption to outright rejection of the Islamic Republic system, which many protesters denounced as a “clerical dictatorship”.

Following extensive review of court documents and other legal documents pertaining to Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari cases, Amnesty International has concluded that their convictions and sentences are flagrantly unjust and amount to a miscarriage of justice. The authorities have violated the fair trial rights of Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, including the rights to access effective assistance of an independent lawyer of their own choosing; to be promptly informed of charges against them; to remain silent and not to incriminate themselves; to challenge the lawfulness of detention before an independent, impartial tribunal; to be protected from torture and other ill-treatment; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence; to obtain full access to relevant evidence; to call, examine and cross-examine witnesses; to challenge the authenticity of evidence; to receive a fair, public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal; to have a meaningful review of their convictions and sentences by a higher court.

Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were arrested in September and December 2018, and subsequently forcibly disappeared for 12 days and 35 days, respectively. They reported in written complaints and in court that between their arrests and the April 2019 completion of the investigation stage, they were repeatedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated to “confess”. They said they were held in prolonged solitary confinement, repeatedly punched, kicked, and beaten with sticks and cables while blindfolded, and psychologically tortured, including through death threats and threats to imprison, kill, sexually assault or otherwise harm their family members. Habib Afkari has reported that for several days in a row, intelligence agents also chained him to a chair and wrapped his face and head in a plastic sheet in a way that made him feel like he was suffocating. According to an official medical note dated 30 October 2019, Habib Afkari’s left shoulder was dislocated and his left wrist and one of his toes were fractured. Vahid Afkari attempted suicide on 26 October 2018 and 2 April 2019; both times, authorities failed to provide him with adequate physical and mental health care and prematurely interrupted his hospital treatment against written medical warnings.

The brothers’ repeated requests for their allegations of torture to be investigated were dismissed and ignored. 
Seven of the eight charges that Habib Afkari was convicted of by Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019 and the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz in June 2020, and five of the six charges Vahid Afkari was convicted of by Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019 and the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz in December 2020, are vague and overly broad “national-security” related charges. They are not internationally recognizable charges and have been consistently used to criminalize the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Iran.

They include “disrupting public order”, “criminal” conduct falling short of “spreading corruption on earth”, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “defying public officials on duty”, “insulting public officials on duty”, “membership in a group for the purpose of disrupting national security”, and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against people’s lives and properties”. Some of the alleged activities cited in the prosecution’s case involved peaceful conduct such as “repeated” participation and chanting in protests characterized as “unlawful” by the authorities and writing slogans on walls. The other cited activities involved alleged discussions that the authorities claim the brothers had at various times in 2018 about possibly committing arson and assault to fight against the Islamic Republic system, but never carried out. The authorities do not provide any evidence in this relation and solely rely on the defendant’s forced “confessions”. 

The only charges which are internationally recognizable offences are “accessory to murder” in the case of Vahid Afkari, which accounts for 25 years of his prison sentence, and in the case of Habib Afkari “deliberately inflicting injuries with a sharp object”, which accounts for eight months of his prison sentence. Amnesty International’s research shows that the prosecution authorities failed to present any credible evidence for these charges; Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were convicted of these charges essentially on the basis of their torture-tainted “confessions” by Criminal Court 1 of Fars in October 2019 and Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019, respectively. In dismissing the requests of Vahid Afkari to exclude his torture-tainted “confessions” as evidence and order investigations, Criminal Court 1 of Fars province said he and his brother Navid Afkari had raised allegations of torture “under the influence of what they had been taught [by inmates] in prison and their idea was that by denying the reality, they may be able to evade punishment”. 
 

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Iran: authorities set to execute man deemed 'mature' at 17

Arman Abdolali, now 25, judged ‘mentally mature’ partly on the basis that the body of his alleged victim was never found Courts ignored claims he was tortured into ‘confessing’ after months of solitary confinement ‘Time is rapidly running out’ - Diana Eltahawy The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the planned execution of a young man who was sentenced to death for a crime that took place when he was a child, following a grossly unfair trial marred by torture-tainted “confessions”, Amnesty International said today. Arman Abdolali, now 25, has been moved to solitary confinement in Raja’i

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UK: Saudi-backed bid for Newcastle United must prompt football ownership rule changes

Deal has long been regarded as attempt to sportswash Saudi Arabia’s human rights record Renewed call for Premier League to introduce a human rights-compliant owners’ and directors’ test ‘An association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation’ - Sacha Deshmukh Responding to reports that the resolution of a commercial dispute over Premier League broadcast rights in the Middle East will clear the way for a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium to buy Newcastle United Football Club, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO

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UK: giant snakes-and-ladders board to show ups and downs in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case

Seven-year-old Gabriella Ratcliffe at the event in Parliament Square in central London © Marie-Anne Ventoura/Amnesty International UK

-Richard Ratcliffe will invite MPs to join him and his daughter Gabriella for photographs standing on various squares of the board ‘We remain caught in a game between governments’ - Richard Ratcliffe Richard Ratcliffe will unveil a giant snakes-and-ladders board in Parliament Square in central London on Thursday 23 September (11am) to mark the 2,000th day that his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily detained in Iran. The snakes-and-ladders board - measuring ten-feet by ten-feet - will vividly show how Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight - and that of other foreign nationals in Iran -

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Rwanda: numerous fair trial concerns in Paul Rusesabagina case

Paul Rusesabagina was widely praised for his life-saving work at the Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali in 1994 © Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Hotelier turned opposition politician given 25-year jail sentence Rusesabagina famous for saving lives of 1,200 people during country’s 1994 genocide ‘Fair trial violations in the case were a disservice to the course of justice’ - Sarah Jackson Commenting on the 25-year jail sentence handed down against Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda today after the opposition leader and man credited with saving 1,200 lives during the Rwandan genocide was found guilty of terrorism offences, Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, said:

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AUSTRALIAN BLOGGER AT RISK OF EXTRADITION

Samoa: Australian blogger at risk of extradition

Action in front of Indian Embassy Berlin
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Talalelei Pauga is a former Australian public servant who has been an Australian citizen for over twenty years. He is currently appealing the extradition proceedings through the Federal Court of Australia, with his trial before the Federal Court of Australia listed on 14 March 2022. Pauga was arrested and detained in August 2020 in Australia.

In late 2018, when the then Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (Tuilaepa) visited Brisbane, a city in Australia, Pauga verbally protested political corruption committed by the foreign leader and presented him with a pig’s head, a Samoan cultural slur. In 2019, Pauga and the co-accused Lemai Sione and Malele Paulo, were all charged with conspiracy to murder. The accused had all been vocal opponents of the Samoan government and Tuilaepa. 

Under the Australian Extradition Act 1988 (Cth) a person is only required to have been charged with an extradition offence to get extradited. That is: an offence recognised in both countries that carries a penalty of at least 12 months. This means that there is almost no evidentiary burden to overcome in requests of extradition and as such concerningly little evidence has been presented as to the charges Pauga is facing. The right to a fair trial includes the right to know what evidence is being presented in order to appropriately prepare a defence case with lawyers.
 

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