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Security tight at Bahrain trial of Shi’ites

Family, supporters gather outside under police watch.

October 29, 2010 11:04 by

The trial of 25 Bahraini Shi’ites accused of plotting to topple the Sunni-dominated political system began on Thursday with defendants saying they were tortured and police encircling the area to keep protests at bay.

Observers say the trial, which came less than a week after Bahrainis voted in parliamentary polls, could become a rallying point for majority Shi’ites, who complain of discrimination in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom, an accusation officials deny.

About 100 family members, supporters and Shi’ite Muslim clerics were gathered outside the court building in Manama’s commercial centre. Police tried to move them on, residents said, but there were no clashes.

Police cars guarded all entrances to the district and a police helicopter circled overhead for the duration of the five-hour court session in the tiny U.S.-allied island state.

All except one of the 23 defendants present in court on Thursday said they had been subjected to beatings, electric shocks and other forms of mistreatment.

“There are torture allegations … We are calling for the trial to be suspended,” defence lawyer Jalila al-Sayed told Reuters.

The judge ordered medical tests for some defendants to try to verify the accusations of torture, defence lawyers said.The next session was set for Nov. 11.


A government statement quoted a forensic expert as saying a medical examination of 13 defendants who had complained of torture found no sign of mistreatment.

“Only six had any injuries at all, which were minor injuries caused by handcuffs during their arrest,” Dr M. Al Khayyat was quoted as saying.

Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty and its Shi’ite majority population complains of discrimination in jobs and services.A close U.S. and Saudi ally, Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and is a regional offshore banking hub.

The government launched a broad security crackdown in August, charging 23 men with trying to overthrow the political system partly by instigating nightly protests.

At the trial on Thursday, two more names were added to the list of defendants in the case, including prominent blogger Ali Abdulemam.Two of the 25 are in London and tried in absentia.

“The direction of travel (for Bahrain) will be much clearer when … we see how the court deals with the trial,” said Jane Kinninmont, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The polls on Saturday, in which the main Shi’ite opposition group won all 18 seats it contested out of a total 40, are seen to have little impact on policy-making in a country where politics are tightly controlled by the rulers.

The opposition accuses the government of allocating districts in such a way as to prevent the opposition from gaining a majority in the assembly, whose bills need to pass an upper house where members are appointed by the king.

Bahrain has come under fire from international rights groups for the abuse of detainees during interrogations, Internet censorship and over the working conditions of the thousands of Asian labourers. Officials have rejected the allegations.

(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Alison Williams)

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