But despite all these accomplishments, treatment the country seems to be missing just one little thing: a doctor who can identify signs of torture.
Last month the tiny Middle Eastern island kingdom of Bahrain put 25 human rights activits, opposition activists, bloggers and dissident clerics on trial two days ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections for (among many charges) “forming an authorized group which incites to overthrow the government.”
The detainees claim they were tortured by Bahraini security forces, and last month their defense team called on the judge to order a doctor to examine them, a demand which was initially refused.
But the latest news is that 13 of the detainees were in fact examined by a “senior forensic science consultant“, who in his infinite senior forensic scientist wisdom determined that severe bruising, swelling, cut and burn marks on a number of the detainees were not signs of torture.
“The judge was not cooperative, like last time, and the defense’s demand that an independent medical body check the detainees was not accepted,” Nabeel Rajab, president of The Bahrain Center for Human Rights told Change.org after yesterday’s hearing. “The lawyers don’t think that the doctors are independent.”
Nabeel, who was kicked out of the area surrounding the High Criminal Court yesterday after sending Twitter updates, said that while the trial goes on, a Change.org petition campaign calling on Bahrain to release the tortured activists has raised the eyebrows of the administration.
“You guys are doing a great job,” he said. “People feel good when they hear you guys supporting us, and the Change.org petition has gotten a lot of attention here.”
“It’s difficult to know if all this has helped, but what it has done is given publicity to the issue and put great pressure on our government,” Nabeel added. “We really admire that so many people from outside Bahrain have been helping us put pressure on the government.”
Bahrain, a strategic American military partner and home to the US Fifth Fleet, is a Shiite majority country ruled by a Sunni minority, at the top of which is the royal al-Khalifa family. The Gulf state has been plagued by high levels of sectarian tension for decades.
The trial is the conclusion to a government crackdown on three Bahraini opposition groups — the Bahrain Freedom Movement, the Haq Movement and the Al-Wafa Islamic Movement — which with the activists being arrested ahead of last month’s elections. The opposition groups, which are officially illegal in Bahrain, jointly called for a boycott of the elections, claiming “manipulation of election through votes cast by military service members and thousands of naturalized foreigners who live outside Bahrain” and “the absence of international and local monitoring.”
The second hearing in the trial was yesterday.
Change.org caught up with Jerila Seyyed, one of the 20 Bahraini lawyers on the activists’ defense team, to speak about yesterday’s hearing.
Change.org: What did you tell the judge yesterday?
Jerila Seyyed: As a defence team we believe that the prosecutor has not acted with the professionalism required and that they have violated the rights of the detainees by preventing them from seeking legal representation and meeting their lawyers. As lawyers we are not allowed to defend our clients.
The judge did allow the defense to express our views of the treatment of the detainees, but there are 25 people being put on trial without being given their basic human rights to defend themselves property.
Change.org: Did the torture allegations come up again?
Jerila Seyyed: Yes. Confessions were extracted under torture – the signs of torture were very clear. We asked them to record the signs of torture on the bodies of 12 of the detainees, as our fears are that with time these signs will disappear. But the public prosecution investigation cannot be relied upon, including the forensic medical officials, who have refrained from recording the reality of the injuries which clearly show torture.
The detainees are still now being beaten, but in a way that no signs will be left on their bodies. The situation is very critical now.
Change.org: Has international pressure on the government regarding this case helped?
Jerila Seyyed: Yes, the pressure has helped, but the authorities here still rely on official reports that they receive from all over the world, which are applauding Bahrain for the successful elections last month. So no one is highlighting the human rights violations. Definitely more activism is needed and pressure in that realm is much appreciated.