bahrain policewomen 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Lawyers in Bahrain for 25 activists accused of plotting against the Gulf nation's rulers staged a mass resignation Thursday to protest alleged torture by authorities in the strategic US ally.
The walkout — which brought the trial to a halt — was the latest tactic to draw attention to prisoner abuse claims and force a deeper look into a major crackdown on dissidents in the tiny island kingdom that hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
Authorities accuse the detainees — 23 in custody and two charged in absentia — of supporting "terrorist" cells seeking to overthrow the Sunni Muslim dynasty that rules over a Shiite majority in Bahrain, a nation no bigger in area than New York City.
The arrests were part of a sweeping offensive launched last summer against perceived threats to the state. The detentions touched off Shiite-led riots and rallies that have severely strained Sunni-Shiite relations in the country.
Washington and allies worry that the widening rifts could roll back a decade of political reforms and open footholds for Iran — the region's Shiite power — to build stronger ties with Bahrain's Shiites, who have complained for decades of discrimination and being frozen out of top security and political posts.
One of the defense attorneys, Jalila al-Sayed, said the 25-member legal
team walked out after failing to get a court-ordered probe into alleged
jailhouse beatings and other abuses against the suspects, who include
human rights activists and bloggers.
It forces Bahraini authorities to appoint a new defense team, which
could complicate efforts to resume the two-month-old proceedings that
have been attended by diplomats from the United States and Europe. The
next hearing was scheduled for Dec. 23.
"We withdrew because the court disregards our requests to investigate
the torture claims," said al-Sayed. "We now consider this trial to be
unfair and against international standards and we won't be part of it."
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's national vote, Shiites held onto their 18 seats in the
40-member chamber, but did not gain enough outside allies for a majority