1 May 2012 RAN 46/10 update #5 BAHRAIN: Re-trial ordered of jailed human rights defenders, writers and bloggers.

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee reiterates its protest at the continued detention of academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, after an appeals court ordered a retrial of their case but ruled that they should remain in jail pending a new verdict. No date has yet been set for the re-trial, which will be heard in a civilian court.

PEN continues to call 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.

According to PEN’s information, on 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in the case of all twenty-one opposition activists, writers and bloggers convicted by a special security court on 22 June 2011 of ‘plotting to overthrow the government’ for their peaceful opposition activities. They include academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who were each sentenced to life imprisonment after calling for political reform and reporting on human rights abuses in the country. After the hearing the official Bahrain News Agency reported that the retrial will hear ‘testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses…once more as if it is a new trial…". None of the defendants were present at the court hearing, and all fourteen detainees are expected to remain in custody for the duration of their appeal, except for Al Hurra Yousif Mohammed who was released after yesterdays’ hearing having served his sentence.

Seven of the defendants were convicted in absentia, including blogger Ali Abdul Imam of Bahrain Online, sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The appeal of the fourteen detainees was heard on 6 September 2011 by the military-run National Safety Court of Appeal, and all the sentences were upheld on appeal at a brief hearing on 28 September 2011. 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.

PEN International's WiPC supported a trial observation mission by British Barrister Sarah Elliott of Doughty Street Chambers to Bahrain for the verdict in September 2011 and for hearing of the Court of Cassation on 23 April 2012 in partnership with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). It is supported by IFEX member the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), both of which Al-Khawaja is a founder. She received permission by the authorities to attend the Court’s hearing on 23 April which was then postponed for one week, but there was no reply to the request to allow her to return to attend the 30 April hearing.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has pledged to continue his hunger strike, which he started on 8 February 2012, ‘until freedom or death’. He was finally permitted a visit by his wife on 29 April, who claimed he had been force-fed without his consent. Bahraini officials claim al-Khawaja agreed to all procedures. According to his family he is said to be close to death.

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

For more background on the case see PEN’s previous alert.

RECOMMENDED ACTION

Please send appeals: Protesting the continued detention of 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 Al-Manama Bahrain. 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 Manama Kingdom of Bahrain Fax: +973 17101955 email: pr@social.gov.bh

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

***Please contact this office if sending appeals after 31 May 2012***

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: cathy.mccann@pen-international.org