DUBAI: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the release of hundreds of Bahraini pro-democracy activists arrested after last year’s uprising and for all charges against them to be dropped.
“Grossly unfair military and civilian trials have been a core element in Bahrain’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests,” HRW said. Cases “against everyone convicted on politically motivated charges” should be dropped.
The New York-based group also called for the release of at least four Shiite protest leaders who remain in prison for expressing anti-government sentiments and demanding political reform.
According to HRW, hundreds of Bahraini activists have been tried in special military courts set up after King Hamad declared a quasi state of emergency last March as his security forces crushed a month-long uprising in Manama.
The rights group said that by October, all the special military court cases had been transferred to civilian courts.
But “egregious violations of fair trial rights in political cases” continued in Bahrain’s criminal justice system “with serious systemic problems,” despite government pledges to reform, HRW said.
“Serious abuses included denying defendants the right to counsel and to present a defense, and failure to investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment,” it said, citing a 94-page report on judicial violations.
The report is based on 50 interviews with defendants, lawyers and observers as well as examination of court documents.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International said Bahrain’s government had failed to implement human rights reforms demanded by an independent commission which investigated the crackdown.
They said the government was still “far from delivering the human rights changes” recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
The BICI report was commissioned by the king last June after the violence left 35 people dead and triggered international pressure on the ruling Sunni dynasty.
Near daily protests have continued in Shiite neighborhoods of the kingdom, with the main opposition formation, Al-Wefaq, charging that “violations” by the authorities have been on the rise.