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PEN observer reports on Bahrain trial

Monday 26 September 2011 - 1:00am

29 September 2011
RAN 46/10 update #4
BAHRAIN: Sentences upheld against jailed human rights defenders, writers and bloggers.

PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee reiterates its continued protest at the detention of academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, whose life sentences for their peaceful opposition activities have been confirmed on appeal by a military court on 28 September 2011. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain for the peaceful exercise of their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and urges a full and independent investigation into allegations that they were tortured in pre-trial detention. It reminds the Bahraini authorities of their obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory.

On 28 September 2011 the military-run National Safety Court of Appeal confirmed the convictions of academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and upheld their sentences of life imprisonment. They are believed to be targeted for calling for political reform and for their reporting on human rights abuses in the country.

PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee supported a trial observation mission to Bahrain for the verdict in partnership with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). The following is a report from the hearing:

The ruling on the appeals of 14 of the 21 human rights activists, writers and bloggers was given by the National State Safety Court in Manama, just after 10.15 am on 28th September. The announcement was brief. After the 14 defendants present in court were identified (the remaining 7 having been convicted and sentenced in absentia) the presiding military judge announced that the appeals were dismissed and sentences upheld for all of the defendants.

The defendants had been warned not to say anything from the dock by the army guards beforehand. On the last occasion at court when Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and others tried to speak out about having been tortured in detention, they were removed from court, taken outside and beaten resulting in Al-Khawaja having to be taken to the military hospital.

On this occasion the defendants were silent other than to raise their arms in a gesture of solidarity.

The court has not yet given any reasons for its decision. The defence teams have 30 days in which to lodge final appeals to the Court of Cassation (the Bahrain Supreme Court).

A short meeting between the defendants, their lawyers and some embassy staff present was permitted after the hearing. The defendants were in strong spirits despite the ruling which they were expecting to be unfavourable. All 14 have been on hunger strike (together with four others from the prison) to protest at the detention and treatment of more than 30 women and young girls who were arrested on Friday for protesting in the city centre at the Bahrain Parliamentary by-elections. It is believed that the some of these women have been released but ten or more are due to go on trial this week.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is still suffering the effects of the repeated beatings to his face with problems with his jaw and teeth and is expecting to have further medical treatment to assess the extent of the long term damage.

For more on IFEX's work on Bahrain and a recent IFEX statement on the case please click here.

Dr Al-Singace, head of the human rights office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder and former head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), are among twenty-one opposition activists to be convicted by a special security court on 22 June 2011 of ‘plotting to overthrow the government' following a wave of protests which swept the country in February and March this year. Eight of those convicted received life sentences, including Dr Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. A further nine were sentenced to fifteen years in prison, three received five-year terms and one a two-year prison sentence. Seven of those convicted were charged and tried in absentia. They include blogger Ali Abdul Imam of the popular news portal Bahrain Online, who received a fifteen-year sentence. The appeal of the fourteen detainees was heard on 6 September 2011, and the verdict announced at a brief hearing on 28 September 2011. All the sentences were upheld on appeal. The trial did not meet with international standards of fairness, and there has been no independent investigation into allegations by some of the defendants, including Dr Al-Singace and Mr Al-Khawaja, that they were tortured in pre-trial detention, when they were held incommunicado.

Dr Al-Singace was arrested at Bahrain International Airport on his return from London on 13 August 2010, where he had been attending a conference at the House of Lords during which he had criticised Bahrain's human rights practices. He was initially accused of ‘inciting violence and terrorist acts', before being formally charged under national security and counter-terrorism legislation. Dr Al-Singace was held incommunicado and in solitary confinement for six months, during which he was reportedly ill-treated. He and all those on trial with him were freed in February 2011 following widespread calls by anti-government protestors for political reform and the release of political prisoners. He was re-arrested on 16 March 2011 after publicising the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Dr Al-Singace is disabled, and relies on a wheel-chair or crutches for his mobility. There are serious concerns for his welfare in detention.

Dr Al-Singace taught engineering at the University of Bahrain and authors his own blog ( He was previously detained in 2009 and held for several months on charges of plotting to overthrow the government for his peaceful dissident activities before being given a royal pardon.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a leading human rights defender in Bahrain, with a long history of political persecution. After twelve years in exile he returned to Bahrain in 1999 following wide-ranging political reforms that allowed independent human rights groups to operate in the country. In 2002 he co-founded the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), and has since worked in numerous roles for various regional and international human rights organisations. Most recently, he was the Middle East and North Africa regional campaigner with Front Line Defenders. In 2004 he was held for two months for his political activism, and has been subject to regular threats, travel restrictions and harassment. He was arrested from his home on 9 April 2011 and charged under national security and counter-terrorism legislation for his role in the recent pro-democracy protests. He was badly beaten during his arrest.

Protests led by Bahrain's majority Shia community against the government's policies have been underway since mid-February 2011. The Bahraini security forces responded with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators. Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed and many more wounded. The Bahraini government declared a State of Emergency on 15 March 2011 and brought in troops from neighbouring Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia to help suppress dissent. The State of Emergency was lifted on 3 June 2011 but those arrested and charged under that law have not been released. Opposition sources estimate that some four hundred people are currently on trial for their support of the protests, and further arrests and demonstrations are continuing.

Please send appeals:

Protesting the harsh sentences against Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja solely for peacefully exercising their right to free expression;
Demanding a full independent investigation into allegations that both men have been tortured and ill-treated in detention;
Seeking assurances that both men have access to all necessary medical care whilst detained;
Urging the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Send appeals to:

His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Office of His Majesty the King
P.O.Box 555
Rifa'a Palace
Kingdom of Bahrain.
Fax: +973 176 64 587

Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs
P.O.Box 450
Fax: +973 175 31 284

Dr. Fatima AL-Balushi,
Minister of Human Rights and Social Development, Acting Minister of Health
Ministry of Human Rights and Development
Kingdom of Bahrain

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Bahrain in your country if possible.

***Please contact this office if sending appeals after 31 October 2011***

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: