Bahrain court adjourns trial of ex-editors

AP News
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Posted: Jul 03, 2011 7:17 AM
Bahrain court adjourns trial of ex-editors

Bahrain's highest criminal court on Sunday adjourned the trial of three former editors for the main opposition newspaper accused of unethical coverage of anti-government protests earlier this year in the Gulf kingdom.

The trial of the ex-editors from Bahrain's most widely read newspaper, Al Wasat, is part of a sweeping crackdown on the Shiite-led opposition demanding greater freedoms and more rights in the strategic island nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The decision to push the next hearing until Oct. 11 also could be an effort to avoid further tensions while Bahrain's Sunni rulers open talks with protest groups and others. At least one of the former editors, Mansoor al-Jamri, is taking part in the U.S.-supported dialogue that began Saturday.

The reconciliation talks face huge challenges, however, after more than four months of harsh security crackdowns that include hundreds of arrests and alleged protest backers purged from jobs and universities.

Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's population, but claim they face widespread discrimination that includes being blocked from high-level military or political posts.

The lawyers for the editors, who were forced to resign from Al Wasat in March, asked the court to clear their clients of all of charges, which include publishing false news and endangering public order.

Washington has strongly pushed for dialogue in Bahrain and hailed the decision of Bahrain's biggest opposition party, Al Wefaq, to participate in the talks.

The Sunni monarchy has made token concessions ahead of the so-called "national dialogue," including sanctioning an international investigation that will include probes into the conduct of security forces during the revolt and halting trials of opposition supporters in military-linked tribunal.

But the government has not relented on opposition demands to free all detainees and clear others convicted of protest-linked charges, including eight activists sentenced to life in prison last month.

Just hours after the opening ceremony for the talks, hundreds of marchers streamed into the capital Manama chanting "No dialogue." Security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The talks are to last until the end of July with delegates meeting three times a week. The next session is Tuesday.

At least 32 people have been killed since February when protests broke out in Bahrain.