The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) expresses its deep concern and total condemnation of the severe penalties targeting prominent political and advocacy figures in Bahrain whose only crime has been to aspire to genuine reforms to construct a democratic system that respects human rights, guarantees equality, and ends systematic discrimination against the Shiite community.
The National Safety Court, a special military court formed pursuant to the declaration of a state of emergency in the Kingdom, sentenced some of the most prominent human rights defenders in the Gulf region to life imprisonment. Among them is Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, the former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who, until a few months ago, was the Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator for Front Line Defenders. Seven other prominent political dissidents and democratic reform advocates also received life sentences, including Hassan Mushaima, the secretary-general of the Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ), and Abduljalil Alsingace, a leading member of the same organization and a blogger. Thirteen other defendants received prison sentences ranging from 2 to 15 years. The defendants were convicted of a host of spurious charges, including conspiring to overthrow the regime, establishing or managing a terrorist group, and colluding with terrorist groups outside the country.
CIHRS expresses its full solidarity with the victims of these simulated trials, which the Bahraini authorities have long employed to confront those it deems its enemies for merely exercising their right to peaceful expression, for publicly criticizing government practices and policies, or for defending human rights. CIHRS also notes that the investigative authorities in the case took no action regarding the brutal physical assault on Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja during his arrest in April, nor over his torture in detention nor the attempted sexual assault on him. As a result of the torture, al-Khawaja sustained a shattered jaw and several other serious injuries for which he underwent surgery at a military hospital several weeks ago. The hospital refused to provide a medical report or any information about the nature of the surgery. CIHRS learned that al-Khawaja was taken yesterday to a military hospital due to his deteriorating health condition. In addition, the “judges” of the military court refused to hear al-Khawaja’s complaint about the torture he endured or to issue a court order to investigate the complaint.
The collusion of the investigative and judicial authorities against the complaints of torture lodged by al-Khawaja, by several other defendants in the case, and by dozens of political and rights activists over the last year, clearly shows that torture has become a systematic practice whose perpetrators are fully immunized against accountability and punishment. It is no surprise, then, that there has been a marked increase in the number of deaths in detention centers. Over the last two months, four such cases have been reported.
Once more, CIHRS expresses its condemnation of the brutal crackdown on the democratic uprising in Bahrain and of these fraudulent trials in exceptional courts. Both constitute a flagrant breach of international norms of justice, particularly since defendants were denied their right to confront witnesses for the prosecution and to call defense witnesses on their behalf. CIHRS warns that the complicity of international and regional parties with the Bahraini authorities in these repressive abuses and practices threatens to bring the state of human rights in the country to a catastrophic low and has sparked growing resentment among broad swathes of the population that may push the country into sectarian conflict, whose consequences would not be felt in Bahrain alone.
CIHRS urges the international community and the Arab League to exert serious efforts and to intervene rapidly to end unfair exceptional trials, to investigate those responsible for the brutal repression and torture, and to immediately release rights activists, bloggers, and politicians tried in these courts who did nothing more than exercise their right to peacefully express their opinions. In particular, CIHRS calls for an end to the unfair military trials that have targeted 47 doctors and medical personnel from the Salmaniya Medical Complex. The medical workers are being prosecuted because they ignored government directives to refrain from treating those injured in the crackdown on peaceful assemblies demanding reform in the Pearl Roundabout in February.
CIHRS believes that the arbitrary measures being taken against these individuals, some of whom have been tortured, is aimed at punishing them for shouldering their professional duty and moral responsibility toward injured persons as well as for revealing the existence of ad-hoc torture chambers set up in the Salmaniya Hospital, where those injured in the demonstrations were assaulted and punished. Unfortunately, some Egyptian organizations have ignored the Bahraini authorities’ use of these brutal practices against reform advocates, human rights defenders, doctors, and nurses and have even criticized the human rights groups that expose them.
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