Bahrain appeals court upholds jail for 13 opposition leaders
Bahrain’s highest appeals court on Monday upheld prison terms for 13 prominent activists on charges of plotting to overthrow the monarchy, lawyers said, in a verdict the opposition warned would fuel unrest.
The Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of the 13 opposition leaders, seven of whom have been jailed for life, the lawyers said.
Among those serving life terms is well-known activist Abdulhadi Khawaja, who last year embarked on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, finally ending it in June after 110 days.
Two others sentenced to life are Hassan Mashaima, head of the Shiite opposition Haq movement and Abduljalil al-Singace, a member of the same group.
The opposition swiftly condemned the verdicts.
“The judgments confirm the need for radical reform” in the government that sentences “dissenting opinion to life imprisonment,” tweeted Ali Salman, head of Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition bloc Al-Wefaq.
“The revolution continues and the sentences of leaders energise it,” wrote Salman on his official account on Twitter, also urging the court to drop the charges against the defendants.
“Appointed government will fall and the prisoners will get their freedom... soon,” he wrote.
Witnesses told reporters that Bahraini police were heavily deployed around the court on Monday as several opposition leaders staged a protest nearby, chanting, “We demand the release of the prisoners” and “we will not forget the prisoners.”
The 13 activists took part in 2011 anti-government protests and were convicted by a military tribunal on charges that included “setting up terror groups to topple the regime”.
The defendants were retried in a civil court.
Seven other activists sentenced in absentia to various jail terms on the same charges remain at large.
In September, a lower appeals court upheld life sentences for seven of the activists, all Shiites, including Khawaja, Mashaima and Singace, and jail terms ranging from five to 15 years for the others.
In November, Amnesty International urged Bahrain to release the 13 jailed activists, saying doing so would prove the Gulf monarchy is “genuinely committed” to reform and the respect of human rights.
The rights watchdog had called them “prisoners of conscience” who should be freed immediately.
Since February 2011, Bahrain has been shaken by opposition protests that the authorities say are being fuelled by Shiite Iran across the Gulf.
At least 80 people have died since the start of the unrest, according to the International Federation of Human Rights.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom, home to the US Fifth Fleet and strategically situated across the Gulf from Iran, has continued to witness sporadic Shiite-led demonstrations, mostly outside the capital, since it crushed the protest movement in March 2011.
The opposition insists that the premier stand down and that the government be headed by the leader of the elected majority in parliament.