Rights group urges Bahrain to give activists fair trials

7th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Amnesty International has called on Bahrain to give 23 Shiite opposition activists fair trials, saying that many of them have been held incommunicado and some have reported being tortured.

"The Bahraini authorities must ensure that all those charged receive a fair trial that meets international standards," the London-based watchdog's Middle East and North Africa director, Malcolm Smart, said in a statement released on Monday.

"We are particularly concerned that they could be at risk of the death penalty if convicted," Smart said.

Two of the activists are in London and were charged in absentia. The remaining 21 are in custody in Bahrain.

"Many of those detained have been held incommunicado amid reports of torture and other abuse," Amnesty said.

According to a charge sheet released on Saturday, the 23 activists -- 10 of them prominent opposition figures -- are accused of "undermining national security."

Most of the suspects are members of Haq -- the Movement of Liberties and Democracy -- a Shiite group which rejected as inadequate reforms intended to put an end to Shiite-led unrest that rocked the 35-island archipelago through the 1990s.

Those reforms, enshrined in a 2002 charter, converted the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority emirate into a constitutional monarchy but Haq boycotted parliamentary elections in 2006 and intends to do the same next month.

The arrests have raised tensions between the government and the mainstream Shiite opposition which took part in the 2006 election, winning 17 of the 40 seats in parliament.

Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the Islamic National Accord Association, warned last month that they would "lead to more protests."

He mocked the authorities' accusations against those arrested, saying they could not have all belonged to a single secret organisation as they had different opinions.

© 2010 AFP

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