The Proceedings of the fourth session in the trial of the so-called “Terrorist Network” – 9th Dec. 2010
Followed by: A summary of the memorandum addressed to the court about the reasons behind the lawyers withdrawal
The area around the court room in the Diplomatic area was surrounded, with men and women from the special forces, some roads were closed, meanwhile a helicopter circled the area. These special forces prevented a group of activists and human rights defenders from entering the courtroom.
The trial of 23 people (who are human rights defenders, political activists, bloggers, and clerics) started at 9:30 in the morning. Present in the courtroom were representatives of western embassies, international organizations and national media (despite the ongoing gag-order on this case) and some families of the detainees. Amongst those present was also Mr. Ahmad Mansoor, representing The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and the lawyer Mr. Matthew Moriarty, representing The Middle East and North African department of IFEX.
The public prosecution asked to start by calling witnesses to the stand, namely the officers responsible for the interrogation of the detainees, however the lawyers objected demanding a halt in the case until the cases of torture are investigated first. The judge rejected those requests and the prosecution objected to request from counsel. This was followed by the lawyers withdrawal from court after presenting the judge with a memorandum about the reasons for their withdrawal.
The Judge then suspended the hearing for half an hour and returned to the courtroom to ask the defendants about the new lawyers they intend to appoint, however the defendants insisted on keeping their lawyers, refusing any other new lawyers. The case was then postponed to the 23rd of December 2010, to appoint new lawyers for the defendants.
The Courts first session for this case was held on the 28th of October where the 23 defendants were charged with “forming an organization contrary to the Terrorism Law”, “the financing of terrorist activities”, and “spreading false news and propaganda about the situation in Bahrain”, these are all charges that have been denied by the defendants.
Summary of the defence Memorandum Addressed to the Court
In the defence lawyers memorandum presented to the court, they present the reasons and events which showed obvious abuse of the defendants rights, and which lead to their withdrawal, they have been summarized in 9 points. Because of this documents importance we present a summary of its contents:
In regard to the circumstances of arrest, the defendants were arrested in the middle of the night and without court orders, in a way which frightened the detainees and their families, and which they described as “kidnapping”. The arrests were made by National Security, which subjected them from the first moments of their arrest to the law to protect society from terrorist acts, for the purpose of subjecting them to torture in the absence of their lawyers, despite the lack of jurisdiction of the National Security in making arrests and determining the law under which the defendants should be tried. However the charges against the accused had no links to terrorism, but were infact related to overall political views, which at their maximum are charges of political opposition to the ruling regime. The law used to charge the defendants, which is law 58 (2006) has been criticized by several human rights organizations including the United Nations, its constitutionality has also been disapproved of for overriding fundamental rights which were set in the constitution.
The accused and their families have been deprived of fundamental rights; such as not knowing the place of their sons detention, from the day of their arrest and until their first appearance in court 2 months later, also the prevention of visitation rights of families and lawyers until after the court order on the 28th of October 2010.
Agents of National Security have subjected the detainees to many forms of physical and physiological torture – even after their court appearances- to force them to sign confessions on acts they had not committed. The detainees have been held in underground solitary confinement in contradiction with international standards for prisons, they have been subjected to severe beatings, electric shocks, and continuous sleep deprivation lasting several days, and signs of torture are still visible on their bodies. Only parts of the detainees confessions were documented in the records of the public prosecution in the first hearings, therefore the records do not describe the conditions of the detainees clearly and accurately. The detainees have been subjected to this physical and psychological torture after every court hearing as a punishment for their testimonies about their ill-treatment and torture.
The prosecutors, the media and some state officials have been carrying out campaigns of defamation and public condemnation against the detainees before any court verdicts have been reached. The detainees have been described as a “terrorist organization” and “Nazis” amongst other things, (in some cases even their lawyers haven’t been spared) and this contradicts the fact that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. This organized condemnation has been deliberately extended to affect an entire sect as part of the campaign lead by state officials, members of parliament and journalist who are close to the government, all this has been accepted by the public prosecution as they do nothing to stop the defamation of the detainees meanwhile forbidding them the right to defend themselves by continuing the gag order on facts related to the case. This is a violation of the relevant principles of the constitution and laws and international conventions which Bahrain as a member is bound by, it is also a clear confiscation of the role of judiciary.
There was also a violation of the process of the investigation by the prosecutor, for although they had prior knowledge of the names of the detainees lawyers they did not inform them about the hearings of 11 of the 23 detainees. Despite the lawyers requests they were not allowed to meet their clients before the start of the hearings, this has even been written in the records of the investigation. Some of the lawyers were even seated behind their clients to prevent them from communicating with them, the lawyers objected to this and their objections were included in the records. Furthermore, the detainees rights were not read to them and the lawyers were prevented from reading them their rights as well, which is in violating of principle 13 of the set principles. The representatives of the prosecutor’s office also did not examine some of the defendants obvious signs of torture, which are still visible on their bodies. Concerning the signs of torture, the representative of the prosecutor refused to even record statements of the defendants and prevented the lawyers from directing questions, and they were not recorded, what is recorded instead is : “the lawyer asked questions that we refused to be directed to the defendant”. As emphasized by the defendants, some of the prosecutors representatives in court kept threatening the defendants with torture if they do not confess to what they had previously confessed to under torture. The defence lawyers informed the Attorney General of these violations in writing on 7/9/2010. They also resorted to the urgent judiciary to prevent the dissemination of the defamation programs but the general prosecution and the media started publishing and broadcasting the program an hour before the start of the court session, in persistence to deny the defendants right to object to discredit them by publishing without a sentence, and this is what led to the description of the Public Prosecution that it has violated its neutral role, where It should be.
In the course of consideration by the Court in the lawsuit, the defendants were deprived of some of their rights as well; as the foundations of a fair trial make it necessary for the accused to be granted all legal rights even if it required to investigate some of his side demands to ensure the justice. The Court is aware that the defendants had been deprived of the following: Although listed the defendants to what they have suffered from torture during interrogation and display of its marks on the court, it is not recorded in the minutes of the session, in the same way it was presented before the eyes and ears of the court, but even some of them were not allowed to demonstrate such effects. The defendants and their lawyers requested to show the torture they have suffered from after the sessions and display its marks, but the court deprived them of their essential defense and did not give it attention.
The court should have taken into serious consideration the requests of the defence lawyers which included starting an independent judicial investigation into the crimes of torture, to form an independent medical committee to check-up and write medical reports for detainees who have been subjected to torture, to exclude the Minutes of the investigation prepared by the National Security Agency, as well as the investigations of the public prosecution, which is affected by the National Security Agency and has proven to be non-neutral, and to provide legal protection for the detainees and move them from national security prison to prevent more abuse.
The defence lawyers also noted that the court insists on hearing the testimonies of so called witnesses who are actually national security agents who either personally tortured the detainees, or aided in their torture or knew about it and witnessed the signs on the detainees bodies. In reality the court should have been investigating these people for crimes of torture and not listening to their testimonies. The court's decision came as a shock to the accused and the defense.
Based on all these facts, and because the court rejected all the defence lawyers requests, the lawyers are convinced that they are no longer able to perform their professional duty towards the detainees Moreover they feel that their presence in the courtroom has become ineffective and its only goal to complete the formality of the criminal court, which contradicts the oath these lawyers swore to. Therefore, because they feel unable to defend the detainees in light of all these conditions and circumstances, the lawyers have decided to withdraw from this case.
Previous court sessions BCHR report on the 3rd session The Observatory observation statement of the 3rd session Front Line observation report of the 2nd session BCHR report on the 2nd session Amnesty International observation statement of the 1st session BCHR report on the 1st session
--- Amongst them: Nabeel Rajab – head of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Mohammed Al-Masqati – head of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (which also represents the Arab-Europe Center for Human Rights), Mrs Ghada Jamsheer – a human rights activist and head of the Womens Petition Committee, Ebrahim Sharif, head of the National Democratic Society, Abdulnabi Al-Ekri – head of the Bahrain Transparency Society, AbdulHadi Khalaf – an academic, writer and served as a representative in the parliament of 1973, and other activists and the families of some of the detainees.