News / Middle East

Bahrain's Top Court Upholds Prison Terms for 13 Dissidents

Masked Bahraini anti-government protesters run through smoke after setting tires alight on a road in the village of Dumistan, January 7, 2013.
Masked Bahraini anti-government protesters run through smoke after setting tires alight on a road in the village of Dumistan, January 7, 2013.
VOA News
Bahrain's top court has upheld prison sentences against 13 opposition figures charged with plotting to overthrow the Gulf state's minority Sunni rulers in a 2011 uprising.

In a ruling Monday, the Bahraini court rejected appeals from all 13 dissidents, most of whom are majority Shi'ites. Eight of the defendants had been sentenced to life is prison by lower courts, while the other five had received terms of five to 15 years.

  • Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Malkiya village, Bahrain, January 7, 2013.
  • Riot police chase anti-government protesters during clashes in Malkiya village, Bahrain, January 7, 2013.
  • An anti-government protester poses for a photograph flashing the victory sign in front of burning tires on a road in the village of Dumistan, Bahrain, January 7, 2013.
  • An anti-government protester prepares to throw a gasoline bomb at riot police during clashes in Malkiya village, Bahrain, January 7, 2013.
  • Anti-government protesters chant slogans as they hold banner and images of jailed opposition leaders in Malkiya village, Bahrain, January 7, 2013.

The opposition activists were convicted of forming "terrorist" groups to overthrow Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa family and engaging in "intelligence contacts" with foreign powers - a reference to Shi'ite-majority Iran and Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah. Iran denies providing anything more than moral support to Bahraini Shi'ites.

The Bahraini dissidents helped to launch mass anti-government protests in February 2011, demanding democratic reforms and an end to the Sunni monarchy's perceived discrimination against the Shi'ite majority.

Bahrain's main Shi'ite opposition group, Wefaq, responded to the upholding of the dissidents' prison terms by accusing the government of "political persecution." In messages posted on its Twitter feed, Wefaq said the "revolution continues and the sentences ... will energize it."

The U.S. State Department spokeswoman said it regretted Monday's court ruling. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington is concerned the decision "further restricts freedom of expression and compromises the atmosphere within Bahrain for reconciliation."

“We regret today’s decision by the Bahraini Court of Cassation to uphold the convictions and the sentences of these 13 activists. We’re concerned that this decision further restricts freedom of expression and compromises the atmosphere within Bahrain for reconciliation," said Nuland..

"We have repeatedly voiced our concern about these cases both publicly and privately and at the highest levels, and urged the government of Bahrain to abide by its international obligations, and we have also had embassy observers at the trial," she added. "So we call on the government of Bahrain to investigate all reports of torture, including those made by the defendants in this case, as it has pledged to do, and to hold accountable any who are found responsible.”

Amnesty International called the ruling an "unjust decision," saying in a statement that it was "further proof" of how Bahrain's justice system "simply cannot be relied on."

The London-based group again called on the Bahraini authorities to release the 13 opposition figures, saying they were imprisoned "simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly."

One of those sentenced to life in prison is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a rights activist who held a 110-day hunger strike last year to protest his detention. Two other dissidents who received life terms are leaders of the Shi'ite opposition Haq movement -- Hassan Mashaima and Abduljalil al-Singace.

In addition to the 13 defendants, the court upheld prison terms for another seven dissidents who were tried in absentia and remain on the run.

Bahrain's 2011 protest movement was inspired by pro-democracy uprisings unfolding in other Arab nations at the time. The Bahraini government crushed the demonstrations in March that year, sending security forces to clear a protest encampment in Manama and bringing in troops from neighboring Sunni-led Gulf states to restore order.

Frequent street battles between Bahraini security forces and Shi'ite demonstrators have continued, mostly outside of Manama. At least 55 people have been killed since the uprising began.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs