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BAHRAIN: Government hits wall in terrorism case against dissidents

December 23, 2010 |  9:25 am

Protest bahrainA group of political dissidents charged with plotting against the government of Bahrain are stonewalling the prosecution by refusing to cooperate with state-appointed lawyers after their own legal team withdrew in protest over the authorities' refusal to investigate torture claims.

On Thursday, the trial for 25 dissidents accused of terrorism was adjourned until Jan. 6 after the state-appointed lawyers told the court they could not do their job without their clients' cooperation, according to organizations following the case. Local media has been barred from covering the trial.

The trial has become the most visible symbol of the Sunni monarchy's crackdown against the largely Shiite opposition, which has sparked riots and led to the arrest of hundreds of people since it was launched in the months leading up to the October parliamentary elections.

Bahrain, a close ally of the United States and host to the Navy's Fifth Fleet, has come under heavy criticism from local and international human rights organizations, which have accused authorities of torturing the defendants on the pretext of trumped-up charges.

The charges -- some of which carry life sentences -- range from spreading misinformation to financing terrorism and "inciting hatred" of the ruling royal family.

Among the defendants is the journalist and blogger Ali Abdulemam, founder of the popular website Bahrain Online, and opposition activist Abdul Jalil Singace.

Singace, leader of the opposition Shiite political society Haq, had previously testified that he was severely beaten for weeks on end and that interrogators threatened to rape his wife, daughters and sister.

"I was beaten on my ears, my crutches were taken away and I was forced to stand for long periods of time in a basement under the National Security Apparatus building," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. "They opened the door so I could hear the others being tortured, and this went on every night after midnight and until sunrise."

One of the defendants is a board member of the human rights group.

Many of the defendants presented testimony that they had been tortured and mistreated in detention, but so far the court has not moved to authorize an independent investigation of the claims nor barred the use of confessions allegedly obtained under torture.

Earlier this month, the defense's legal team quit in protest over the government's handling of the case.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, another advocacy group, has sent monitors to each trial session and continues to publish reports questioning the fairness of the proceedings.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: A protester holds a sign objecting to the imprisonment and alleged torture of prominent Shiite political activist Abdul Jalil Singace outside the courthouse in Manama, Bahrain. Credit: Associated Press

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