The trial of 25 Shia Muslim opposition activists began in Bahrain on Thursday with the activists pleading not guilty to charges of plotting to overthrow the government and supporting terror cells. The activists said that they were working for an unnamed foreign government [JURIST report]. The suspects, who have been under arrest since August, are charged with undermining national security [NYT report] and planning violence, intimidation and subversion through an international terrorist network. At least 10 prominent Shiite opposition figures were formally charged by prosecution officials, including Abduljalil al-Singace, Mohamed Habeeb al-Saffaf and Abdulhadi al-Mokhaidar, part of the leadership of the the Haq Movement, a Shiite-dominated opposition group. Rights groups have criticized the charges as signs of repression.
The Bahraini government has faced repeated criticism over its human rights record in recent years. In February, Human Rights Watch claimed the government had reverted to using torture [JURIST report] to gain confessions from detainees after a decade of reform banning such practices. The US State Department deplored impunity for human rights violations and crimes in Bahrain in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [JURIST report]. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies [advocacy website] has voiced similar concerns.