The Civil Courts Failed to Resolve the Dreadful Violations Committed by the National (Military) Safety Court which Did Not Provide the Guarantee of a Fair Trial

The Trails of the Leaders, Doctors and Human Rights Activists are Instances that Plainly Reveal the Fake Justice in Bahrain

13 Oct 2012

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is concerned about the fate of dozens of those condemned with harsh sentences that could reach in some cases up to life sentences against the backdrop of cases related to the wave of popular protests demanding freedom and democracy that broke out on 14 February 2011 and its aftermath, especially after hope was shattered of those oppressed prisoners ever receiving a fair trial according to the standards and guarantees of justice ensured by all international conventions and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Most of those prisoners had had verdicts issued against them from a special court and which is the National (Military) Safety Court. The procedures of this Court were strongly condemned by the international community and UN bodies that refused that civilians are trialed in military courts, and its trials were stigmatized as unjust and did not provide the minimum standards of a fair trial, and its verdicts were primarily based on coerced confessions extracted under torture. They were corrupt emergency courts that Bahrain's contemporary history did not witness the likes of it, and The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November 2011 had documented the outrageous and unprecedented violations committed by them.

Today and after more than a year of transferring the cases that the Military Courts looked into to the Civil Courts, the results of the Civil Public Prosecution and Civil Court's dealings, who were entrusted with the task of amending the outrages committed by the Military Court and Prosecution in the National Safety Court against all the detainees, came to prove again what the BCHR had reported about the Civil Court and the violations of the Public Prosecution[1], in addition to many international organizations in previous reports, among them the Human Rights Watch report (No Justice in Bahrain) which revealed the failure and corruption of the civil and military justice and they clearly lack the most important elements of justice and which is the independence of the judiciary and putting an end to the Authority's dominance over them, and the importance of abiding by the constitutional guarantees of a fair trial. The findings of the BCHR indicated clearly the failure of the Civil Court which has become a tool for revenge and political oppression against human rights activists, political leaders, prisoners of conscience and many other elites of the society such as doctors, human rights defenders and all those who disagree with the Authority or those who demand freedom and democracy, as the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay had expressed when describing the sentences as political persecution.

To shed light on further violations and unfair procedures and harsh sentences issued or endorsed by courts, the BCHR introduces the results of the follow-up on the trial of 21 leaders and activists in the Civil Courts and which lacked the minimum standards of a fair trial, and this vital case has been chosen as an example of the fake justice in Bahrain, however, there are numerous other significant cases that have been subjected to the same violations that the Case of 21 was subjected to, such as the case of the medics and the case of the president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, and the human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja and many other cases.

The politicized justice deprives the leaders and activists from freedom in the Case of 21:

The case of political leaders and human rights activists was known as the case of the 21 since it included 21 prominent political and human rights activists, the Primary National Safety Court convicted them on 22 June 2011 with harsh sentences that reach life sentences, for their role in the 14 February 2011 uprising, and it accused them with false criminal charges, among them forming and leading a terrorist group that targets changing the constitution and overthrowing the regime, and contacting a terrorist group abroad that works for a foreign country that carried out hostile acts against Bahrain, and collecting money for this group. The Primary National Safety Court sentenced 8 of them with life sentences, while it sentenced the others with 2 to 15 years in prison, among them 7 who were sentenced in absentia. The National Safety Court of Appeal upheld on Wednesday (28 September 2011) the sentence of the Primary National Safety Court[2].

After the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November 2011, a number of cases that were inspected in National (Military) Safety Court were transferred to the Civil Courts on the basis that it will adjust the procedures and will provide the guarantees of a fair trial and will consider reviewing the issued sentences. On 30 April 2012, the Civil Court of Cassation revoked the ruling[3] indicating that the ruling of the National Safety Court failed to prove the terrorist organization, whereas the ruling did not show in its outlines or causes the details of this crime, the ruling also failed to indicate the details of the crime of overthrowing the regime or indicating it in an acceptable manner. However, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the Authorities in Bahrain should have refuted the sentences altogether and should have released the prisoners, which was a part of the recommendations mentioned in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report.

On Tuesday 8 May 2012, the High Court of Appeal initiated its first sessions to reconsider the case and evidence[4] . However, and although all the defendants in the case spoke about the torture and degrading treatment they faced before and during the National (military) Safety Court, and although the defendant's lawyers presented evidence from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report that proves the defendants were subjected to extensive torture, and although they requested investigating the claims of torture and dropping the confessions that were extracted under torture, the Court did not respond to the request and it did not investigate any of the torture allegations.

The Court and in all of the trials held continued to deliberately neglect the lawyers' and defendants' request to initiate an investigation in the torture allegations. It also disregarded dropping the confessions extracted under torture and at the same time it kept to the Prosecution witnesses and testimonies presented in the Military Court and they are testimonies presented by officers in the National Security Apparatus who were accused of torturing the activists, despite the fact that the lawyers and defendants had presented a collective speech requesting excluding the testimonies of the Prosecution witnesses because they are the ones who tortured the defendants.

The Court deliberately breached the principles of a public trial in a critical turn of events in the case in the sessions related to hearing the defense witnesses. After 8 sessions, the trial was turned it into a semi-secret one where it was transferred to the counseling room next to the Court, without any legal justification. It also deliberately dropped the defendants' and lawyers' right to present the defense witnesses, although the court was obliged to listen to the defense witnesses and had to adhere to listening to them as a procedure, and by doing that the Court is reassured when issuing its verdict. The lawyers indicated in a detailed report the shortcomings and violations of the Court of the guarantees of justice and constitutional rights that were violated, and they also pointed out the reason behind their clients' withdrawal from the trial and their refusal to listen to the defense witnesses in the counseling room.[5]

On 14 July 2012, the Court issued a decision to ban publication in the case and turned to the court trial to secret sessions. At this point, all the defendants in the case and lawyers had boycotted and withdrew from the court sessions. However, the court attempted to fill this void by appointing lawyers by itself, although those appointed lawyers faced many obstacles. Among those obstacles was the haste in which the sessions were held, which was at a rate of two per week. The appointed lawyers were also not able to review the bulky case file and all its details and they did not prepare any plead, in addition to the defendants refusing them and refusing to interview or meet them. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that lawyers were in fact not appointed for all defendants.

Despite all the shortcomings of the court and sessions in providing the guarantees to the defendants, whose overall facts are indicated in this report, the High Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the sentences[6] against all 21 defendants, without any changes, on 4 September 2012, and which sparked widespread international condemnation.

It was apparent that the sentence was political as the defendants did not receive the bare minimum requirements and guarantees of a fair trial, and it was fully in line with the sentence issued by the National (military) Safety Court. The defendants also declared in a statement published on Monday 2 October, that they are in the process of challenging the High Court's ruling in the Court of Cassation, and they indicated that they do not trust the justice or integrity of the Bahraini judiciary because it is politicized and that their challenge is so that they can fully exercise their right of litigation and so that they can prove to the international community that their case is a political one and that they are prisoners of conscience.

The main points signifying the aspects behind breaching the standards of a fair trial in the case of 21 leaders and activists:

1. The procrastination in transferring the case to the Civil Court of Cassation after upholding the severe sentences in the National (military) Safety Court of Appeal, where the case was only transferred 6 months later and this delay indicates the political approach towards this case. 2. The insistence of the Civil Court of Appeal on keeping to the Prosecution witnesses who testified in the National Safety Court, and they are a number of officers and members of the National Security Apparatus who were involved in the torture and they had presented testimonies that were sent depending on what they called confidential sources despite the lawyers and defendants demands to drop those testimonies. 3. Although the defense lawyers demanded investigating the documented torture the defendants were subjected to, the Court did not accept that and it did not investigate the torture and disregarded all the obvious evidence that torture exists. 4. Despite the demands of the lawyers and defendants of the necessity of dropping the coerced confessions extracted under torture presented by the military prosecution, the Court neglected that. 5. Transferring the court sessions to secret sessions is a breach of constitutional guarantees as there was no justification behind that decision other than the Court's insistence on hindering the defense lawyers and defendants from presenting their defense witnesses. 6. The withdrawal of lawyers and defendants from attending the trial in protest against the unconstitutional procedures and discretion of court which left the defendants with no defense and in spite of all that the Court continued to hold the trial sessions behind closed doors and quickly until it issued a verdict. 7. The Court appointing defense lawyers without the defendant's consent amidst the defendants refusal of those appointed lawyers who only attended in the last sessions - almost 4 sessions, and they were not able to meet the defendants or review the case file and their presence was only to say that defense was provided, however it was only superficial. 8. The Court dropped a very crucial element in the case which was hearing the defense witnesses, and it did not even bother to summon any of them although it is its duty to listen to anything that might change the course of the case until it is reassured when issuing the verdict. 9. Issuing orders to ban publication in the case after the trial was held without the defendants or lawyers presence in the last sessions. 10. The Public Prosecution continued to release press statements that condemn the defendants and that lay pressure on the Court and gave prejudices against the defendants. 11. The Public Prosecution could not present any concrete physical evidence in any of the charges against the appellants in the case, and the Court did not base its verdict on any concrete evidence. 12. The Court did not provide any evidence against any of the defendants that proves calling for violence, supporting violence or practicing it. However, on the other hand, the evidence all proved that the defendants call for peacefulness and they are activists that are known for their political opinions that oppose and criticize the Authority.

Based on the above summary of the overall crucial turning points in this case, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls for the following:

• Release all the prisoners of conscience in all the cases where the ruling was made in a court that lacks justice, independency and integrity and especially the activists, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in the Case of 21. • Put an end to the immense corruption and violation in the Public Prosecution apparatus and hold accountable all the Prosecutors and Chief Prosecutors who were involved in the violations and who covered up the torture or who practiced defamation and revenge against the defendants. • Drop all the unjust charges issued after unfair trails and without any guarantees to the defendants and to release hundreds of those unjustly sentenced in various malicious issues which the Authority utilized for political ends. • Abide by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry BICI report, and especially the recommendations that indicate the necessity of investigating torture and prosecuting those responsible for it, especially in the notorious National Security Apparatus. • Prosecute all those involved in the National (Military) Safety Courts for all the violations committed by them against the defendants and reveal the truth behind the fictitious cases and those responsible for managing them. • Reform the Civil and Military Judiciary in an immediate manner and to reconstruct it in an independent manner that guarantees that all the appellants in all levels receive fair trails that provide the highest international standards of a fair trial.

[1]Bahrain: Lawyers File A Lawsuit Against the Public Prosecutor On A Range of Violations To Their Defendants' Rights Defence Lawyers' Response to Statement of Supreme Judicial Council and Public Prosecution's Press Conference Bahrain: Ongoing practice of torture of detainees, with the support of public prosecution

[2]Bahrain News Agency: the names and sentences of all the defendants in the case - Appeal court The Primary Sentence

[3]Court of Cassation revokes the sentence of the National Safety Court - BNA

[4]Trial begins in the Civil Court of Appeal – Alwasat newspaper

[5]Lawyers reject the secrecy of the court and dropping the defense witnesses

[6]Upholding the sentences and the widespread international and human rights condemnation – Alwasat newspaper