Global outrage as Bahrain court upholds protesters’ convictions

Sep 4, 2012
Louisa Loveluck

Thirteen activists, including eight who received life sentences, are offered no reprieve by regime

Getty Images

A BAHRAINI court has upheld the convictions of 13 prominent activists and opposition leaders, drawing criticism from human rights organisations that had campaigned vociferously for their release.

The group includes eight who had been given life sentences. The other five had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years.

According to Bahrain’s official news agency, charges against them include “plotting to overthrow the regime” and having “foreign intelligence contacts”. But Amnesty International describes them as “prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly".

The Associated Press reports that none of the 13 defendants appeared in court, and defence lawyers claim that family members were barred from the chamber under tight security. The detainees include leading rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who recently staged a 110-day hunger strike in protest, and opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa.
Abdulhadi’s daughter Maryam al-Khawaja tweeted her lack of surprise at the verdict: “With no international consequences & accountability for [the] Bahrain regime, they have no incentive to change”.

Amnesty Denmark condemned the convictions as “a human rights scandal”, calling on the international community to “put aside ‘quiet diplomacy’ and condemn the Bahrain regime in [the] strongest possible terms”.

Bahrain is viewed as an important strategic ally to western countries at a time when the kingdom’s regional neighbours face increasing internal unrest. The island state is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, while the British Ministry of Defence subsidises the training of Bahraini officers at Sandhurst.

Observers fear that today’s verdict will fan the flames of an ongoing stand-off between Bahraini security services and anti-government protesters that has resulted in at least 60 deaths since the uprising began in February last year.

Protests originally demanded an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family, but have now transformed into an open challenge to state repression as police continue to use excessive violence against demonstrators.

The Bahraini government has promised to reform the police service and criminal justice system, but human rights organisations argue that today’s ruling expose such pledges as a ‘hoax’.

According to Brian Dooley, a director at Washington-based Human Rights First, “The pattern of repression continues in the courts and on the streets and it's hard to see how the Bahrain government intends to make any progress on human rights.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter