Transparent Trial for Hujjaira Detainees

In a commendable step on their part, local and international organizations including Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, the British Muslim Human Rights Commission, the British Bar Society and others such as the French Embassy in Bahrain, have all sent their observers to attend the so called Hujjaira trial.

The trial was held publicly on 24 of March 2009 with a large media presence and under the watchful eye of the supervisors, in a display of openness and transparency which was crucial to guarantee a fair course of justice to those accused. It was a relatively quiet trial in which the Judge received many criticisms and verbal attacks both against himself and the court which he bore with an open heart, allowing a number of detainees to speak for themselves despite the presence of their lawyers, and ignoring some irresponsible statements. The observers left the court room with a very positive impression with regards to adherence to the standards of a fair trial.

What is most important in the trial of the 35 individuals accused of conspiring and plotting to overthrow the regime and disturb the security of the country among other accusations, is the initial outcome of the trial, for the judge decided, at the Defence’s request, to re-question the detainees and not to adopt Public Prosecutor’s investigations, which violated the law by broadcasting the detainees’ confessions on TV during the previous investigations. The Judge also agreed to look into allegations of torture with the consent of the Defence’s lawyers and to put an end to the solitary confinement of prisoners. In addition to this, the accused and their lawyers enjoyed a wide margin of freedom and expressed themselves freely at the trial.

Abdul Jaleel Singace, one of the most three important political activists accused, presented his plea which included an attack on the judge, and in which he called the trial ‘a trial of conscience’, describing it as a case designed to settle scores in the regime’s favour, and said that all the charges against him are fabricated.

Another accused political activist Hassan Mushame said that all the charges against him were politically motivated and questioned the integrity of the court which ignores the allegations of torture: ‘in the past, I was unjustly detained for demanding our rights, and this happened again last year, but I was then released and the case was closed at the request of His Majesty the King. Today I am being charged for the same reason’. He also added: ‘I am here at court for being a political activist and all other charges are baseless’.

As for Shaikh Mohammed Al Moqdad , he defended himself by saying that ‘there is no terrorist case or terrorist cell nor is there any intention of targeting anyone or any place. I don’t know any of these faces standing before me, so how could I have been able to form this so called cell? He also denied funding a terrorist network or inciting to overthrow the regime.

The Defence team demanded the withdrawal of the Public Prosecution’s investigations from the evidence as they belonged to an ‘opponent’ of the accused. It requested that the investigation be conducted independently, the allegation of torture be investigated and for those responsible to be brought to trial. The Defence also criticised placing the detainees in solitary confinement and regarded the practice as type of mistreatment.

To this the Public Prosecutor’s Representative Haroon Al Zayani replied that ‘the Public Prosecutor is an honest opponent in the criminal case and is not biased against anyone’ and aimed only to uncover the truth. Zayani also denied any allegations of torture based on medical records. The detainees’ lawyers then responded by saying that the broadcasting of the names and pictures of the accused and details of their confessions during the course of investigations is illegal.

The trial session highlighted the determination of the judge to avoid doubts or criticisms that could tarnish the trial, and we hope that this adherence to transparency, the procedures and correct standards will continue in the next sessions.

Hasan Moosa Shafaei
President - Bahrain Human Rights Monitor