Bahrain situation 'tense, unpredictable': UN rights chief

30th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN rights chief warned Tuesday that the situation in Bahrain remains "tense and unpredictable," with small protests still being repressed and hundreds of cases involving demonstrators pending trial.

"We understand that the situation in Bahrain remains tense and unpredictable," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"We continue to receive reports of the repression of small protests and understand that at least 264 cases involving protestors remain pending before the courts, many of whom may be tried in the Court of National Safety, which is effectively a military court," he added.

Created in mid-March, the court is headed by a military judge and counts two civilian judges, all of whom are appointed by the Bahraini defence force's commander in chief, noted Colville.

The spokesman stressed that civilians must be tried in civilian courts, charged with a recognisable crime, and given access to lawyers and time to prepare their defence.

However, he noted that some detainees were still "desperately calling their families to appoint lawyers a day before trial."

"Clearly major problems with due process," he said.

"We are concerned that most of the defendants in these cases may be prisoners of conscience, detained only for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. All such detainees must be released," said the spokesman.

He also called on the Bahraini government to release the list of names of those arrested since March 15, as well as details on where they were being held and the charges and status of their trials.

So far, about 124 cases have received verdicts, including two death sentences. Of these cases, 16 were acquitted completely, while seven others were partially acquitted, said Colville.

© 2011 AFP

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