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Rights Groups Disturbed By Bahrain Court Decision on Activists' Sentences

  • Cecily Hilleary

A protester holds a picture of Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja during an anti-government rally demanding his release, Manama, April 18, 2012.

A protester holds a picture of Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja during an anti-government rally demanding his release, Manama, April 18, 2012.

Rights groups are expressing disappointment over the decision by Bahrain’s highest court to reject the appeals of 13 activists jailed on charges of organizing pro-democracy protests in Bahrain nearly two years ago.

Amnesty International is calling the decision “unjust”. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy director at the Middle East and North Africa program, said the ruling confirms the view of many “that the judiciary is more concerned about toeing the government's line than upholding the rule of law and the rights of all Bahrainis.”

Amnesty has previously described the jailed Bahraini as “prisoners of conscience,” held only because they exercised their rights to assemble and speak freely.

The Bahrain government says the prisoners are guilty of establishing and joining an illegal group and working with “a foreign country” [i.e., Iran] in order to overthrow the monarchy and change the constitution by force and terror. The activists were also accused of insulting the army, inciting hatred and participating in illegal demonstrations.

The Bahrain Court of Cassation deliberated only a short while Monday before delivering its decision. The court’s ruling means that the 13 activists, who received sentences ranging from five years to life in prison, will not be allowed any further appeals.

Maryam Al-Khawaja

Maryam Al-Khawaja

Perhaps best known among the activists is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, whose case VOA has covered since he and his brother were arrested by security agents in April, 2011. He had spoken at a demonstration in Manama a few weeks earlier.

Maryam al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights activist and the current head of the foreign relations office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights. She is also the Abdulhadi’s daughter. She told VOA that neither the prisoners nor their families were allowed inside the courtroom Monday, and that deliberations took only a few minutes.

“Basically their reading of the verdict was that the appeal was denied and that these sentences, all of them, would be upheld,” Al-Khawaja said. “If you look at the case itself, it’s very obvious that this case is not really related to any criminal acts. It is rather related to issues of freedom of expression. The people in this case are people who have criticized, spoken out against and talked about the violations of the regime in Bahrain.”

Khawaja said that “For now, we’ll keep doing what we are doing in trying to create pressure from the outside to influence the human rights situation inside the country.”
She says it is her belief that without international pressure—particularly from the United States and Britain -- the situation in Bahrain would likely deteriorate further.
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