25 Opposition Activists Go on Trial in Bahrain; Judge Drops Charge of Coup against Sunni Regime

Article excerpt

Byline: Ben Birnbaum, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Persian Gulf state of Bahrain - home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet - on Thursday began the trial of 25 activists from the country's Shiite opposition who were arrested several months ago in a wide-ranging crackdown by the Sunni-dominated government.

The defendants are charged with 10 crimes, some carrying life imprisonment. But the most serious accusation - plotting a coup against the government - was dropped.

Nobody could believe [the coup charge], inside Bahrain or out, Mohamed al-Tajer, head of the 16-attorney defense committee, said in an interview after the proceedings. They are trying to make the case more respectable.

Mr. al-Tajer said that at the outset of the hearing in Manama, the capital, that he and the other attorneys demanded to meet with their clients alone. The request was granted for the first time, he said. He also said the judge promised to move the defendants to a different prison after several of them complained of severe torture.

The Bahraini government released a video Thursday saying none of the defendants showed any signs of mistreatment and that only six had any injuries at all, which were minor injuries caused by handcuffs during their arrest.

Zahra al-Singace, daughter of defendant and longtime human rights activist Abduljalil al-Singace, said the statement was nonsense. When we went to see him, he had lost [about 30 to 45 pounds], he had marks under his eye, a scar beside his ear. He had very bad knee pain. He lost hearing in his right ear. And they took away his crutches and his glasses.

Mr. al-Singace told the court Thursday that he and his co-defendants were subjected to physical and mental torture [and] were placed in solitary confinement.

Like Ms. al-Singace and other family members, Jenan Al Oraibi - wife of defendant and blogger Ali Abdulemam - said she had no contact initially for weeks. Now, she said, the visits last for 15 minutes, and they warn us right at the beginning that if we talk about anything related to political issues or anything in the newspapers, then we won't get to visit again.

The trial started five days after the first round of the country's parliamentary elections. …