UN human rights chief voices deep concern about Bahrain crackdown

5 May 2011

The United Nations human rights chief today voiced deep concern about the continued detention of hundreds of activists in Bahrain, the prosecution of scores of medical professionals, and the sentencing to death of four protestors after a closed-door military trial.

“The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern. The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a news release.

“The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations,” she added.

Bahrain is one of several nations in the Middle East and North Africa that has been rocked this year by protests calling for increased freedoms and democratic reforms. The Government’s crackdown on protesters has draw criticism from UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has urged maximum restraint and called for inclusive dialogue with all parties.

On Wednesday, Bahrain’s Justice Ministry announced that 23 doctors and 24 nurses from the Salmaniya Medical Complex are due to be tried in a military court on charges including participation in unlicensed protests and inciting hatred against the Government.

Last week four protestors were sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment for the alleged killing of two policemen. This took placed after they were reportedly held incommunicado, without access to their families and limited access to lawyers.

In addition, hundreds of people reportedly remain in detention for their alleged participation in the protest movement, including teachers, lawyers, journalists and bloggers, medical professionals, artists, activists and members of political bodies, according to the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR).

The Government has put the number of people in detention at 400, but OHCHR has received information that the figure may be higher than 1,000, the whereabouts of more than 50 of whom are unknown.

Ms. Pillay voiced particular concern about the reported deaths of at least four persons in custody. “There must be independent investigations of these cases of death in detention and allegations of torture. Bahraini authorities must stop the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and political activists, ensuring that their fundamental civil and political rights are protected.”

She urged the Government to urgently conduct an independent, impartial investigation and bring all those who were responsible for assaulting and killing protestors to justice, and reiterated her request for the Government to allow an OHCHR assessment mission into the country.


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