Amnesty Int’l Condemns Collective Trial in Diraz Case, Calls on Bahrain to Fairly Try or Release Defendants
2019-03-19 - 10:36 p
Bahrain Mirror: Amnesty International said that the verdict issued by Bahrain on February 27, 2019, sentencing 167 people in a single proceeding to prison terms for their participation in a non-violent sit-in is yet another example of the suppression of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly that has been ongoing since 2011, and a new instance in the growing pattern of mass trials in Bahrain.
In a public statement, Amnesty called on the Bahraini government to respect its commitments under international law and either release the defendants or try them in individualized proceedings that meet fair trial standards.
The rights organization said that given the result of this trial is a concrete and discouraging sign that Bahrain has made no movement towards loosening its clampdown on civil and political rights, it also calls on the Human Rights Council to prioritize critical scrutiny of Bahrain's record and on Council members to speak out against the ongoing repression there.
Of the 171 defendants brought to trial, 167 were convicted by the court, a conviction rate of 97%, which Amnesty considered within the context of this case is highly likely to be indicative of the court failing to properly consider individual conduct.
The prosecution collectively charged the defendants in the Diraz case with resorting to acts of violence, following on Ministry of Interior claims that many had forcibly resisted arrest, including with weapons. According to the information available to Amnesty International, the situation in Diraz was peaceful prior the entry of the heavily armed security forces in the early morning of 23 May.
Even if there were acts of violence by some protesters, guilt must be individually proven to meet the standards of fair trial. Subsequent to the verdict, a government spokesman told Reuters that the defendants were found guilty of kidnapping and torture. However, no such charges appear in the indictment or sentencing documents. No evidence of violence of any sort is presented in the court's verdict, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty stressed that mass trials invariably violate the right to a fair hearing (recognized under Article 14.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a party), since they fail to respect the core principle of criminal law that responsibility is individual and attached to specific acts. (As this principle is stated under the Bahraini Constitution, "[Criminal] punishment is individual.") "The text of the verdict in the Diraz case demonstrates how profoundly unsound the proceedings were."
It went on to say that virtually the entirety of the 19 pages of text consists of listing and repeating the names and numbers of the 171 defendants. "The only other information contained is the record of which defendants received which punishment. The verdict contains no discussion of evidence, no consideration of defence arguments, and no legal analysis. A reasoned judgment has not been issued to date."
Amnesty International also noted that most of the defendants were charged with "unlawful assembly," "riotous behaviour," or a combination of the two. Bahrain's definition of the more serious charge of "riotous behaviour" is vague enough that it may be applied to include non-violent participants in a protest where violence breaks out. This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of public assembly (recognized under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.) Article 179 of the Penal Code reads, "If one or more [unlawful] protesters move to use violence in order to achieve the goal for which they have gathered, this is riotous behavior, and anyone who knowingly participates in this riotous behavior shall be punished by imprisonment." "[U]nlawful assembly" is defined as a gathering "in a public place composed of at least five people, the goal of which is to commit crimes or acts preparatory to or facilitative of crimes, or to infringe public security, even if done to achieve a legitimate end" (Art. 178 of the Penal Code).
The judge who presided over the case and handed down the verdict is a member of the Al Khalifa royal family. The King appoints all judges in Bahrain under Article 33(h) of the 2002 Constitution, a system which undermines judicial independence and has resulted in disproportionate representation of the royal family among the judiciary, it added.
The rights groups further stated that the convictions and sentences are a substantial further blow against the right to freedom of assembly and the right to fair trial in Bahrain, and came during the same week in which Bahrain took its seat as a new member of the UN Human Rights Council.
On 27 February, the courts of Bahrain issued prison sentences ranging between 10 years and one year against some 170 Bahrainis accused of supporting Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim during the deadly raid on the Sheikh's house and surrounding areas. Security forces killed 5 protestors in that raid.
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