Bahrain: Bahrain- Verdict expected on 29 September in case of Human Rights Defender Naji Fateel by court that fails to live up to fair trial standards
Update: On 29 September 2013, the court sentenced human rights defenders Naji Fateel to 15 years’ imprisonment.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) express concern over the expected verdict which will be announced by the 4th Criminal Court on 29 September 2013, in the case of detained human rights defender Naji Fateel along with another 49 citizens. Reliable reports confirmed from Bahrain that the court fails to live up to fair trial standards.
Naji Fateel, a board member of the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society (BYHRS), was arrested without a warrant on 2 May 2013, from his home in Bani Jamra and held incommunicado for 3 days before being presented to the Public Prosecution Office. On 23 May 2013, Naji was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment for “illegal assembly”. He has been later put on trial for “establishing a terrorist group for the purpose of disturbing public security, disabling constitution and law, preventing public institution and authorities from performing their duties, attacking public and personal rights, and harming national unity”, under the internationally condemned 'Terrorism Law'.
Before the start of the trial or any conviction, Bahrain national television aired on 12 June 2013, names and photos of Bahraini citizens that it claimed are behind the set up of the so-called “Coalition of 14 February”, Naji was among them.
Reports by BYSHR and other groups alleged that Fateel has been subjected to severe torture during interrogation in the notorious Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). According to these reports, he has received electrical shocks to his genitals, left foot, and back, and been subjected to simulated drowning, severe beatings, threats to publish photographs of his wife (taken from her camera which was confiscated when security forces raided the family home), verbal abuse using uncivilized words, hanging by his hands from the ceiling, sexual harassment and threats to rape him, standing for long hours, and sleep deprivation.
In his first court hearing, which was held on 11 July 2013 at the 4th Criminal Court, Naji talked publicly about the torture he was subjected to and took his shirt off to show the torture marks on his back. However, instead of taking immediate action and carry out an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into the allegations of torture, the judge did not allow him to complete his testimony and refused to take note of the torture allegations. It is worth mentioning that Naji has not been brought in order to attend the second hearing of the trial which was held on 26 July 2013.
The judge heading this court is Judge Ali Khalifa Al-Dhahrani, who is the son of the current parliament chairman Khalifa Al-Dhahrani. Ali Al-Dhahrani is the same judge who ruled most of the cases at the Court of National Safety (military courts). The assisting judges at the 4th criminal court are Judge Hamad Al-Khalifa -member of the ruling family- and Judge Jassim Ajlan.
The defense team has submitted a letter in which they expressed their objection to the appointment of two of the judges due to a conflict of interest based on the following:
- Among the charges against the defendants is the charge of attacking the provisions of the Constitution and dissolving the parliament which is headed by Judge Ali Al-Dhahrani’s father.
- Also among the charges against the defendants is the charge of attempting to overthrow the government led by Al-Khalifa family, which is the same family of Judge Hamad Al-Khalifa, a member of the court.
They have also requested the formation of a medical committee to investigate the torture that the defendants were subjected to, however the court ignored this request by the defense team and proceeded with the trial. Therefore, the defense team and defendants boycotted the hearing session on 5 September 2013 in a protest against “the circumstances of the trial in the court hearings which confirmed that the judiciary in Bahrain is not independent." As a result, the court decided to issue the verdict on 29 Sep 2013.
BCHR’s head of documentation, Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafadha who have attended some of the trial sessions said “it is clear that this court is violating the international standards for fair trials as they want to continue this 'mockery of justice' without the lawyers and defendants.”
Although the lawyers asked for a response from the Court in relation to their request that the case needs to be looked at according to Article 211 of the Bahraini Criminal Procedures Law for the above mentioned reasons, the court failed to consider the request and continued to investigate the alleged charges directed to the defendants in the trial.
The GCHR and the BCHR deplore in the strongest terms the detention and prosecuting of human rights defender Naji Fateel, as well as the torture he has allegedly suffered. The two NGOs believe that the arrest and charges are solely related to his legitimate and peaceful activities in the field of human rights.
The GCHR and the BCHR call on the US administration and other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and the leading human rights organizations to put pressure on the government of Bahrain in to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Naji Fateel and all human rights defenders and activists held in Bahrain as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities;
2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into all reports of alleged torture of Naji Fateel with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in line with international standards;
3. Ensure the implementation of international standards related to interrogation, detention, and a fair trial, and to ensure the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and the defendant's right to innocence until proven guilty in a lawful court which meet the requirements of a fair trial.
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The GCHR and the BCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”