Charges against 21 pro-democracy activists accused of seeking to overthrow
Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy with the help of a foreign "terrorist
group" will be presented to a military court beginning this week.
The "terrorist group" referred to is believed to be Hezbollah in Lebanon,
which the government believes is supporting Bahrain's Shia Muslim
The trials are intended to end the months of clashes and protests in the
island kingdom, which is ruled by a Sunni monarch, King Hamad bin Isa
Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has sent several thousand
troops into Bahrain at the king's request to the Gulf Cooperation Council,
which also sent troops from the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain is also an
important strategic ally of the United States, which houses the US Navy's
5th Fleet in the Bahraini port of Aden.
Iran has been highly critical of the Bahraini government's mass arrests and
the presence of Saudi troops.
The Obama Administration has remained largely silent regarding Bahrain's
handling of the pro-democracy protests. The US position is believed to be
influenced by its reluctance to irritate the Saudis, who were reportedly upset
because they thought Obama abandoned the now-deposed Egyptian
president Hosni Mubarak too soon.
But Obama spoke out late last month after Bahrain set up a special security
court under martial law and sentenced four Shia men to death for killing two
policemen. In a telephone conservation, Obama reportedly told the king he
was concerned about the speed of these trials and the likelihood that the
accused men did not receive adequate due process.
The Obama Administration's relative silence has been attacked by pro-
democracy figures in Bahrain as a double standard when contrasted with the
US military action in Libya and its support for protest movements in Syria
and other Middle East nations.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, head of the Foreign Relations Office of the
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told The Public Record by email, "The
way in which these arrests and detentions have been carried out have lacked
the most basic of legal and human rights. The detainees were not allowed
conversations with their lawyers, and those allowed to call their families,
were allowed one phone call which would always be less than a minute after
approximately 10 days of arrest.
"During those 10 days they were not allowed any type of contact with
anyone. None were allowed to meet their families. Most of the arrests took
place in night raids between 1 and 4am. No warrants were provided at the
time of the arrest, many were beaten during the arrest, and we have received
information from reliable sources that many were subjected to severe torture
during their detention. None of the detention locations of these detainees
were known," she said, adding:
"The people going on trial are of very diverse backgrounds and from
different political societies and/or organizations. Some of these detainees
were in detention during the beginning of the mass pro-democracy protests
after they were arrested during the previous crackdown in August and then
released in late February with amnesty from the King."
She said the defendants' lawyers were informed less than 12 hours before
the trial and issued an "urgent call to send international observers, lawyers
and human rights defenders as well as country officials to attend the
But the military public prosecutor affirmed that the military prosecution had
maintained all the judiciary assurances for suspects arrested in accordance to
the laws especially that related to contacting their relatives and enabling
their attorneys to attend the questioning sessions.
Ibrahim Sharif, a Sunni and head of the secular leftist Wa'ad Party, is
scheduled be tried first, al Jazeera reported. It said that other defendants
may also go on trial Monday.
Most of the protest leaders have been in military custody at Sheikh Issa
Airbase south of Manama, the capital, since 17 March, sources told Al
The protests, which began in February inspired by others across the Arab
world, was led by Shia groups demanding greater political freedoms and
economic reforms. The unrest has claimed an estimated 50 lives thus far.
Shia comprise about 70 per cent of population of the tiny Gulf nation, but
are denied top government and security posts.