For Immediate Release
Amnesty International Calls for Probe of Torture Allegations as 23 Opposition Activists Are Released in Bahrain
Activists Arrested Last Year During Clampdown in Run Up to Parliamentary Elections
NEW YORK - Amnesty International today welcomed the release of 23 opposition activists in Bahrain, but repeated its call for an independent investigation into allegations that some of them were tortured while in custody.
The 23 men were among at least 250 detainees released Wednesday by order of Bahrain's head of state, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, apparently in response to demands made by protesters seeking political reform in the country.
The 23 were facing trial on an array of security-related charges, which they denied but which could have led to the death sentence. The activists were arrested in August and September last year during a clampdown in the run up to parliamentary elections held in October 2010.
"While we welcome the release of these opposition activists, we continue to urge the Bahraini authorities to conduct a thorough, independent investigation into allegations that some of them were tortured in pre-trial detention, and to bring to justice anyone found responsible for torture," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The activists were charged with forming an illegal organization, intended to overthrow the government and dissolve the constitution, inciting people to "overthrow and change the political system of the country," fundraising and planning terrorist acts and other offenses under Bahrain's 2006 anti-terrorism law.
A lawyer for the group, Mohammed al-Tajer, said is not clear whether they were released under royal pardons or if the cases against them can be reinstated at a later date.
Two other political activists who live in London and were charged together with the 23 - Hassain Meshaima’, secretary general of the unauthorized opposition organization, al-Haq, and Sa’eed al-Shehabi, secretary general of the Bahrain Freedom Islamic Movement – are also reported to have had the charges against them withdrawn under a pardon issued by the King.
The 23 detainees' cases were featured in Crackdown in Bahrain: Human Rghts at the Crossroads, an Amnesty International report released this month.
The unrest in Bahrain started with a "Day of Rage," organized on Facebook and Twitter, on February 14. At least seven people were killed and scores, possibly hundreds, of people were wounded by security forces.
Amnesty International has condemned the heavy-handed tactics used by Bahrain's security forces.
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