(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities should quash the sentences of two protesters unfairly convicted by military courts for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations in February and March 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Both men are in need of urgent medical treatment due to the long-term effects of injuries from security forces’ gunfire during the demonstrations. Their families say they have been denied the medical care they need.
Both of the men, Jaffar Salman Maki and Mohamed Ali, were convicted on charges of “illegal gathering,” which appear to violate their right to freedom of assembly, Human Rights Watch said. They did not have access to lawyers during their trials in a military court. A court of cassation is scheduled to review Maki’s conviction on June 28, 2012.
“The least authorities could do is void the convictions of these two Bahraini men who were tried and sentenced without lawyers by military courts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Right Watch. “These young men have already paid a heavy personal price, and deserve an end to this nightmare.”
In June 2011, military courts sentenced Maki to two years in prison and Ali to three years for participating in “illegal gatherings and rioting.” Both were injured by police gunfire during the demonstrations, though Maki denies that he was a demonstrator and both men have denied any acts of “rioting.”
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa established military courts in March 2011 to prosecute people who had participated in the pro-democracy protests. These courts continued operating until early October.
Neither of the two men had lawyers at their trial, family members told Human Rights Watch, and court records reviewed by Human Rights Watch make no mention of lawyers appearing to represent the men. A military appeals court reduced Ali’s sentence to two years, but a civilian court upheld Maki’s sentence.
Maki, 33, was injured on the face and chest by police gunfire on March 15 near his home in Sitra as he was returning from his work as a cleaning supervisor, his family told Human Rights Watch. They said that on the day he was shot, he was transferred from Sitra hospital to the Salmaniya Medical Complex, where doctors removed about 80 pellets from his face and chest and police later arrested him. On March 19 military prosecutors charged him with participating in an “illegal gathering and rioting.”
According to the prosecutor’s court filings, after interrogation, the military investigator determined that Maki was “a rioter” and said that he had confessed to participating in rioting. At his trial, Maki denied all of the charges against him. The special military court sentenced him on June 23, 2011.
A member of Maki’s family who didn’t want to be identified told Human Rights Watch that authorities only allowed them to visit Maki on July 11, 2011, for the first time after his arrest.
“He has lost vision in his left eye and can’t see well in his right eye either,” the family member told Human Rights Watch. The family member also said that doctors who initially treated Maki have said that he can regain his vision if he gets proper medical care, which the family members said he is not receiving in detention.
Ali, 23, was injured by the Bahrain Defense Forces during a demonstration near the Pearl Roundabout in Manama on February 18, 2011, his family told Human Rights Watch. Medical reports reviewed by Human Rights Watch indicate that he was hit by a bullet on the left side of his chest and was in state of “shock and very pale” when he arrived at Salmaniya. Due to severe internal bleeding, doctors removed three liters of blood from his chest and performed a number of emergency surgeries.
The hospital arranged a medical trip to France for him. However King Hamad declared a state of emergency on the date of his scheduled trip, on March 15, 2011, as a result of which he could not travel. On March 16 security forces took over the medical center and expelled family members attending Ali, his brother Hussain Ali told Human Rights Watch.
The family briefly saw Ali when doctors conducted another emergency operation on March 28, 2011, Hussain Ali said. Ali was interrogated at al-Naim police station in Manama on April 8, and denied the charges of “illegal gathering and rioting,” court documents show. On May 31 Ali appeared in a military court without a defense lawyer. “We tried to find a lawyer but we couldn’t because of the short notice, and the lawyers we contacted had many cases at that time,” his brother said.
At the second session of his trial on June 7, 2011, the military court sentenced him to three years in prison. The family then hired a lawyer, who appealed the ruling. In June 2011 the military appeals court reduced the verdict to two years but rejected his appeal for temporary release to get medical treatment.
Hussain Ali told Human Rights Watch that his brother needs urgent medical care. “He has pain and inflammation in his chest,” Hussain Ali said. “Whenever he is in pain, they take him to a doctor who gives him painkillers, but he has not been seen by a specialist.”
Hussain said that authorities have not set a civilian judicial review of Ali’s conviction.
The royally appointed Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November 2011 called for civilian judicial review of military court verdicts and for voiding the convictions of people convicted for peacefully exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. However the review process has resulted in the release of just a few people.
Human Rights Watch called on Bahrain authorities to urgently review the military court verdicts of Maki and Ali, as well as all other Bahrainis sentenced by military courts, and to overturn any convictions for participating in peaceful protests. According to opposition activists, hundreds of people are in prison serving military court sentences.
“All of the government’s nice talk means nothing while men like Maki and Ali languish in jail – not only after unfair trials, but without the medical care they need,” Whitson said. “If the government wants Bahrainis to believe it cares about justice, it can start by dropping all charges based on peaceful protest and ensure that they get the medical care they require.”