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Pillay deeply concerned about dire human rights situation in Bahrain

5 May 2011

GENEVA – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday expressed 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 Justice Ministry announced on Wednesday 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. This comes after four protestors were last week sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment for the alleged killing of two policemen. Prior to their sentencing, they were reportedly held incommunicado, without access to their families and limited access to lawyers. There are also allegations that some defence lawyers have been subject to intimidation.

“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,” Pillay said. “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.”

Hundreds of individuals 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. 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. Another 312 were reportedly released after questioning, according to the Government. Many of the detainees are alleged to have been arrested while undergoing treatment at Salmaniya Medical Complex for injuries sustained during protests.

“Particularly worrying are the reports of the death of at least four persons in custody. My office has also received reports of severe torture against human rights defenders who are currently in detention,” the High Commissioner said. “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 said a series of measures taken by the Government appeared to be aimed at the continued silencing of dissent and creating a chilling effect against further protests. It is understood that more than 1,000 workers from various sectors have been dismissed for going on strike or participating in protests. Journalists have also reportedly been dismissed, expelled or arrested.

“All political detainees must be immediately released and all detainees must have prompt access to legal counsel,” the High Commissioner said.

Pillay noted that the Parliament yesterday voted to extend Bahrain’s State of National Safety and warned that this did not give authorities the license to violate internationally protected human rights.

“We have failed to see any reports of prosecutions against security forces for their violent actions against protestors,” she said. “I urge the Government to urgently conduct an independent, impartial investigation and bring all those who were responsible for assaulting and killing protestors to justice.”

Pillay reiterated her request for the Government to allow an OHCHR assessment mission into the country.

ENDS

OHCHR Country Page – Bahrain: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/BHIndex.aspx

For more information or interviews, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org ) or press officers: Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org)