(IPS) Bahrain’s Tribunal-Issued Death Sentences Cause Outcry

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This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56035.

ATLANTA, Georgia, U.S., Jun 11, 2011 (IPS) – Democracy advocates in the United States are troubled by the pending execution of two men who took part in anti-government protests in Bahrain.

As some governments around the world are enacting, and even expanding upon, U.S.-inspired anti-terrorism policies – particularly in the wake of pro-democracy movements that have swept Egypt and Tunisia – Bahrain is taking things to a new extreme. 

Ali Abdulla Hassan Al Sinkees and Abdulaziz Abdul Ridha Ibrahim Hassan were convicted on Apr. 28 for killing two policemen – Kashef Ahmed Mandhour and Mahmoud Farooq Abdulsamad – during the protests. 

The execution was issued by the National Safety Court, a special court created when Bahrain declared a state of national safety – a close approximation to martial law – in March 2011. 

The state of national safety was lifted on Jun. 1, but the National Safety Courts are continuing their work in the prosecution of many pro-democracy activists, Faraz Sanei, Bahrain researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS. 

According to BNA, the special courts consist of two civil judges and one military judge “in order to ensure the fairness of the judicial system in the Kingdom and safeguards the suspects’ right for fair trials and allowed them to appeal the verdicts.” 

But the trials were held behind closed doors, and the men all pled not guilty. The men were held in undisclosed locations in the weeks leading up to the trials, and were denied communications with family, friends, and attorneys. 

The government of Bahrain produced a video of what appears to be the convicted men admitting to the killings and describing how they carried them out, Sanei said. However, considering they pled not guilty, advocates like Sanei worry the two men may have been tortured. 

Many of the protesters jailed since the March demonstrations appear to have been tortured, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a group officially banned in Bahrain. HRW believes the reports of torture to be credible. 

Two other men who originally received death sentences had their sentences reduced to life in prison by the National Safety Court of Appeal in a May 22 ruling. On May 30, BNA reported the Court of Cassation’s Technical Office had received the case, number 75/2011, appealing the execution ruling of the National Safety Court of Appeal. The Court of Cassation will be reviewing the appeal. 

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim, declared a state of national safety on Mar. 15 in response to pro-democracy protests led by Shiite Muslims activists who are calling for more rights and freedoms under the monarchy. 

Bahrain crushed the popular uprising with military help from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. The government has detained hundreds of citizens since the state of national safety was declared. 

One of the individuals detained, Mohammed al-Tajer, is a human rights lawyer who was planning to defend the men who received the death penalty. 

In addition, the two were tried under a 2006 anti-terrorism law in Bahrain which mandates the death sentence for those convicted. Legal scholars have criticised the laws there for employing an overly broad definition terrorism which includes “threats to national unity”. 

Bahrain does not issue death sentences as often as other countries, such as the United States and Iran, but advocates fear the current sentences could be part of a new wave of death penalties there. 

“Our concern is that all executions are inherently a violation of human rights. It’s a cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment,” said Brian Evans, a campaigner for Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. 

“Beyond that, we’re very concerned civilians have been tried behind closed doors in a military court and I believe their first appeal was also behind closed doors in a military court. That amounts to an unfair trial,” he said. 

“We would like to see a new trial that meets international trial standards,” Evans said. 

But Evans noted Bahrain may not be the only nation with this problem. 

“We [the U.S.] are getting ready to have military trials of our own… [where the accused] could face the death penalty as well,” Evans said. 

The European Union (EU) and the nation of France have been among those outspoken in opposing the pending executions in Bahrain. The United States, a major military ally of Bahrain, has been less critical. 

“These death sentences risk further exacerbating recent tensions in Bahrain and as such, present an obstacle to national reconciliation,” Catherine Ashton, Foreign Affairs Chief for the EU, said in a statement. 

“France, like its European partners, is resolutely opposed to the death penalty everywhere and under all circumstances. I remind you that we had, April 24, denounced the death sentence at trial of several people following the events of recent weeks [which] have shocked and saddened Bahrain,” a spokesperson for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European said in a statement. 

“It is time to seek ways of a sincere dialogue between the parties and reconciliation, the only lasting solution to the political crisis in Bahrain. Respect for fundamental freedoms and the fair administration of justice and transparency are essential to carry out such a process,” the statement said. 

Earlier this week, on Jun. 7, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Khalifa, in a U.S. visit that was not pre-announced. 

Obama’s response to the apparent human rights violations in Bahrain has been “kind of tepid”, Evans said, noting the double standards of U.S. foreign policy. “The U.S. position has been different than it was with Egypt,” he said. 

Prince bin Hamad Khalifa has promised to facilitate a period of national dialogue next month, although it is unclear how opposition leaders will be able to take part in this dialogue when hundreds of them are in jail. 

(END / 2011)

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