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Appeal court upholds life sentences for Bahraini activists

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, 4 September 2012 - Freedom House denounces an appeals court decision in Bahrain to uphold prison sentences for 20 Bahraini opposition activists, including the life sentences for Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Ebrahim Sharif, and six other prominent activists accused of “plotting to overthrow the government.” These harsh sentences further demonstrate the failure of the Bahraini government to follow through on reforms and reflect the ongoing repressive environment for those opposing the actions of the regime. Bahraini authorities must immediately release the activists and drop all charges against them.

The 20 prominent activists were originally sentenced in June 2011 by a military court but were later granted a retrial before a civilian court. During the original trial, eight of the activists were sentenced to life in prison, and the other 12 received sentences varying from five to 15 years. There have been allegations of abuse behind bars. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, one of the eight sentenced to life in prison, went on a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year to protest his sentence and prison conditions. Al Khawaja and his two daughters - Maryam and Zainab - will be the recipients of Freedom House's annual Freedom Award on September 20 for their continued struggle for human rights in Bahrain.

“These activists should never have been sentenced in the first place. The recent court decision is a reflection of how little progress that the Bahraini government has made on improving human rights and implementing the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry,” said Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. “Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the government has yet to make more than hollow gestures and has not implemented real reforms that address the grievances of ordinary citizens and foster basic human rights.”

Bahraini citizens have been broadly engaged in protests since February calling for a more representative government and denouncing ethnic-based inequities, in a country run by the Sunni Al-Khalifa royal family where the majority is Shiite. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed by King HamadBin Isa Al Khalifa, has recommended judicial, police, and labor reforms, many of which the Bahraini government has yet to implement. In August 2012, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison on trumped up charges of inciting violence and participating in “illegal demonstrations.”

Bahrain is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom of the Press 2012 and Freedom on the Net 2011.

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