Bahrain Convicts 51 People in Mass Trial Marred by Torture Confessions Due Process Violations

  • 51 people have been convicted in a mass trial by Bahrain’s High Criminal Court;
  • At least 27 of the 51 convicted were sentenced in absentia;
  • Defendants accused of establishing a militant group under guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and plotting to commit acts of sabotage;
  • Convictions come amidst recent escalation of government crackdown on dissent
  • Trial was marred by due process violations and the use of evidence obtained under torture, according to interviews conducted by ADHRB and BIRD

3 November 2020 – Bahrain’s High Criminal Court has issued a judgement convicting 51 individuals to prison sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment in a mass trial in Manama this morning. Defendants, over half of whom were sentenced in absentia, were convicted on charges including organising and financing a militant group, providing weapons training, committing arson and being in possession of Molotov cocktails. According to family members of one defendant interviewed and according to Documentations of some cases made by ADHRB, the trial was marred by due process violations and the use of evidence obtained under torture.

According to the Bahrain News Agency, Bahrain’s Public Prosecution ordered 52 individuals to be tried after 25 were arrested last year and charged with establishing, organising and managing a group under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Prosecutors claimed that defendants planned to target “economic and vital installations, security patrol sites, the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and (the) Bahrain Defense Force.” Some defendants were also accused of targeting a bank ATM and a transportation company.

Following a public trial on 3 November 2020 during which the court reportedly heard evidence from both defence and prosecution witnesses, the High Criminal Court issued sentences including fines amounting to 100,000 Bahraini Dinars (BD) for seventeen of the defendants (the equivalent of approximately £204,000) and BD 51,400 for three others, as well as allegedly seizing explosive devices including Molotov cocktails. The most severe convictions were lengthy prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment for an unknown number of defendants. One defendant was acquitted.

Of the 52 individuals convicted, 27 were reportedly abroad at the time of sentencing and were thus convicted in absentia. It is not clear how many of the defendants were present in court during the trial nor how many had legal representation. As recently as July 2020, the mandates of five United Nations experts criticised Bahrain’s counter-terrorism strategy stating that “Human rights violations committed in the name of combatting terrorism are counter-productive and undermine the credibility and effectiveness of [Bahrain’s] counter-terrorism strategy”.

The mass trial is the first in Bahrain since April 2019 and reflects a recent escalation of an ongoing crackdown by authorities, with an increased targeting of religious and cultural figures, political dissidents and peaceful activists.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) commented: “With the US election looming, it is imperative that Washington rethinks its Gulf strategy to stem the rising tide of human rights abuses in Bahrain. Regardless of which US administration comes next, the US must cease its unconditional support for Gulf dictatorships or risk further destabilising an already fragile region.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: “This mass trial demonstrates the systemic corruption of Bahrain’s judiciary, which routinely violates defendants’ most basic rights to a fair trial such as permitting evidence obtained through torture and denial of access to legal representation. Today’s verdict reflects a concerted effort by the ruling regime to manufacture a crisis to avoid addressing the country’s unresolved political divisions.”