Manama: Judicial officials ended a nearly two-month legal impasse on Thursday to resume the trial of 25 Shiite activists accused of plotting against Bahrain`s
Sunni rulers, but faced protests from the suspects over
allegation of torture and forced confessions.
The case is closely watched by rights groups and
Western governments after sectarian clashes last year in the
strategic Gulf kingdom, which hosts the US Navy`s 5th Fleet.
The unrest broke out in response to a widespread
crackdown on perceived dissidents and highlighted the
long-standing tensions between the ruling Sunni dynasty and
Shiites, who comprise about 70 per cent of the tiny island
nation but accuse leaders of discrimination and limiting
freedoms. Sunni rulers, meanwhile, fear possible links between
the activists and Shiite-dominated Iran.
The highly sensitive trial had been stalled since
early December when the entire defense team quit to protest
alleged torture against their clients.
It resumed with court-appointed replacement attorneys
even though they have been rejected by the defendants, who are
accused of supporting "terrorist" cells seeking to undermine
the ruling Sunni dynasty. Twenty-three suspects are in custody
and two are being tried in absentia.
Judge Ibrahim al-Zayed ordered the defendants removed
from the court after they pressed their allegations of
beatings in prison and other pressures to sign fraudulent
confessions. They claimed their bodies still show signs of
electric shocks, but the judge refused to order an
The suspects then watched by closed-circuit monitor as
security officials told the court about alleged plots against
the ruling establishment.
It was not clear whether defense lawyers can
cross-examine the officials or present their cases when the
trial resumes February 10.
Bahraini leaders have previously denied any abuses of
the detainees and point to the country`s parliamentary
elections - a rarity in the tightly ruled Gulf - as evidence
of openness and tolerance. In October, Shiites held onto their
18 seats in the 40-member chamber, but did not gain enough
outside allies for a majority bloc.
Yesterday, the international watchdog group Human
Rights Watch listed Bahrain among the Gulf nations where
political activists and independent political voices come
under alleged state harassment.