(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International today urged the U.S. government to send its ambassador in Bahrain to monitor the trial of 14 prominent opposition activists that is set to begin Thursday. The human rights organization is deeply concerned that many of the defendants are likely to be prisoners of conscience.
In addition to the 14 leaders, another seven opposition leaders are being tried in absentia.
"Amnesty International strongly urges the U.S. government to send its ambassador to Bahrain to attend the trial to observe what AI considers to be an already deeply compromised process," said T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA in Washington.
"President Obama needs to speak up more forcefully about the crisis in Bahrain and tell the Bahraini authorities that trials that do not conform to international fair trial standards will not be viewed as credible."
Among other charges, all 21 leaders have been accused of trying to topple the royal regime and change the constitution through terrorism. In addition, they have been charged with insulting the army, public incitement of hatred and contempt of the regime, disseminating false information, and taking part in rallies without notifying the authorities.
Amnesty International has repeatedly said that there is no evidence that the activists used or advocated violence in peaceful demonstrations demanding reforms of the government.
"The charges are so vague and they could apply to thousands of demonstrators who called for change and didn't use violence," said Kumar. "Those detained simply for exercising their right to peacefully express their political views in public should be immediately and unconditionally released."
Defendants did not have free and regular access to lawyers, were not allowed visits by their families while jailed and were only allowed to make brief phone calls to relatives (once a week). Defendants had been interrogated following arrest by National Security Agency officers, without the presence of lawyers who were allowed only during questioning by the military prosecutor.
In addition, most defendants were arrested without judicial arrest warrant. At least two of the defendants were reportedly tortured following their arrest.
The lawyers and families of detainees are not free to discuss the case because of a gag order by the military prosecutor. However, government media has been orchestrating a campaign against the defendants.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
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