24 June 2011 The United Nations human rights office today spoke out against the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, handed down this week to several activists in Bahrain, saying their trials bear the marks of “political persecution.”
On Wednesday, Bahrain sentenced 21 activists and opposition leaders reportedly for plotting to overthrow the Government, which has been has engaged in a violent crackdown against protesters calling for greater democracy, as witnessed in other countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is writing to King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa of Bahrain to convey her concerns, her spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva.
“There are serious concerns that the due process rights of the defendants, many of whom are well-known human rights defenders, were not respected and the trials appear to bear the marks of political persecution,” said Ms. Shamdasani.
She added that, according to reliable sources, the Lower National Safety Court has convicted more than 100 individuals since March this year, mostly for crimes allegedly committed during the protests.
“We urge the authorities to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations, particularly regarding the right to due process and a fair trial,” Ms. Shamdasani said.
“We call for an immediate cessation of trials of civilians in the Court of National Safety, and an immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators who were arrested in the context of the protest movement in February.”
Up to 1,000 people reportedly remain in detention, according to the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), which has received “worrying” reports about the way they are being treated.
Ms. Shamdasani noted in particular that four individuals previously arrested reportedly died in detention due to injuries resulting from severe torture. She called on the Government to urgently conduct an independent investigation into these allegations.
OHCHR’s comments echo those of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who voiced his deep concern at the sentences handed out this week. In a statement issued yesterday by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban urged Bahraini authorities “to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations, including the right to due process and a fair trial.”
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