Riot suspects face charges By ABDULRAHMAN FAKHRI Published: 24th February 2008

FIFTEEN Bahrainis, accused of hurling Molotov cocktails at a police car and stealing weapons, will have charges levelled against them read in court today, in the presence of three international human rights observers.

Their lawyers had boycotted a hearing at the High Criminal Court on February 4, when the charges were supposed to be read.

It was in protest of the hearing being moved from a normal morning session to 3pm, outside the official hours of the court.

The men were due to stand trial at 10am, but security staff locked the Justice Ministry gates after an angry crowd gathered outside, protesting against the arrests during the Eid and National Day holidays last December.

The court adjourned the case until 2pm today and lawyers said yesterday that they would be attending.

"We (defence team) had a meeting with Higher Judicial Council deputy-head Shaikh Khalifa bin Rashid Al Khalifa and it was agreed that the hearing will be held during official hours," the team's spokesman Hafedh Ali told the GDN.

"The hearing will be mainly for reading the charges levelled against each defendant in presence of their lawyers.

"Lawyers must be present when charges are being read in a criminal case and each defendant will respond by either pleading guilty or not.

"We will then request the court to look into the cases against them and the witnesses' reports, after which the hearing will be adjourned."

Observers

Two Bahraini observers from international group Human Rights Watch and Norway-based International Defence Organisation will be attending the hearing.

They will be joined by a representative from abroad on behalf of Ireland-based Front Line - International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The move has been co-ordinated by the suspects' human rights defence committee.

"Our main role will be to report to our respective organisations about the hearing's process, the role of the lawyers and judges as well as whether the defendants were given the opportunity to respond to the charges or their families were allowed to attend," said International Defence Organisation observer and committee member Mohammed Al Masqati.

"Our organisations will then review reports and respond accordingly."

Mr Al Masqati, who is also Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights president, said the observers would focus mainly on the cases of the 15 men.

He, however, didn't dismiss that they might attend other court cases related to "human rights issues".

Of the 15 suspects, two are accused of stealing and possessing police weapons, while two others are accused of stealing two ammunition magazines and another is accused of illegally obtaining and possessing a weapon.

Fourteen of them are also accused of taking part in an illegal gathering on December 20 last year, using force against riot police and torching a police vehicle with a Molotov cocktail. afakhri@gdn.com.bh

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