Bahrain court upholds jail for 13 opposition activists

Bahrain court upholds jail for 13 opposition activists

A civil court in Bahrain on Tuesday upheld jail sentences ranging from five years to life for 13 opposition activists convicted of attempting to overthrow the government, DPA reported.

The ruling came in a retrial that was granted in April after the 13 were sentenced by a special military court for their involvement in Shiite protests against the ruling Sunni royal family.

The London-based Amnesty International rights group called for the defendants to be quickly released and said the verdicts were "outrageous."

"Today's court decision is another blow to justice and it shows once more that the Bahraini authorities are not on the path of reform but seem rather driven by vindictiveness," Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

"Bahrain cannot get a free pass at the UN Human Rights Council and we urge states to tell the Bahraini authorities that today's verdict crosses a red line and that they can no longer be considered credible partners," Sahraoui added.

The head of the main opposition group, Al Wefaq group, said the verdicts represent "political persecution, fake justice and a black day for Bahrain."

"Unjust rulings increase people's persistence to continue their revolution till the end," Sheikh Ali Salman said.

The United States also said it was "deeply troubled" by the move.

"We urge the government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to respect detainees' right to due process and to transparent judicial proceedings, including fair trials and access to attorneys," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "It is important that verdicts are based on credible evidence and that judicial proceedings are conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain's international legal obligations."

Seven of the defendants were sentenced to life in prison. Among them was Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who holds Bahraini and Danish citizenship. In May he ended a 110-day prison hunger strike.

Denmark's foreign minister said Tuesday it was "disappointed" with the ruling, and said authorities plan to contact al-Khawaja and his family and offer consular assistance.

Denmark will "discuss further reactions with the very broad range of countries that in the spring supported Denmark in the demand for the release of al-Khawaja and the other human rights and democracy fighters in Bahrain," Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said.

Al-Khawaja and his family had spent 12 years in exile before returning to the Gulf island in 1999 as Bahrain's then new ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, vowed reforms as he rose to power and sought to quell the unrest of that began in the mid 1990s.

This is the second time Al-Khawaja is accused of attempting to overthrow the regime. He was detained in February 2007 but was released within hours after clashes broke out between his supporters and police.

Over the past nine months, his daughter Zainab has been arrested and released several times as she joined protests calling for reforms as well as the release of her father. She has been put on trial several times for "illegal gathering" and "insulting officials."

On Tuesday, her case was adjourned until September 10.

A commission appointed by the government had recommended a retrial in a civil court, saying it had found evidence of confessions obtained through torture and that the activists had not been allowed adequate access to their lawyers.

The activists however rejected the retrial and on Tuesday none were present in court.

The trial and verdict drew a wave of international criticism and raised tensions on the small strategic Gulf island that serves as home to a US naval command.

Human rights groups and Bahrain's Western allies have repeatedly called for the activists' release.

Protests in which Bahrain's Shiite majority have demanded political reform and greater freedoms began on February 14, 2011.

Opposition and human rights groups say at least 90 people have been killed and 2,000 arrested in a government crackdown on protesters.

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