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Unfair convictions upheld for Bahrain's opposition activists

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - 8 January 2013 - Bahrain's Court of Cassation ruling on January 7, 2013, upholding lengthy prison terms of 13 prominent dissidents appears to confirm the inability of Bahrain's judicial system to protect basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. A military court had convicted the dissidents solely for exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

A Human Rights Watch investigation found that the evidence against them consisted of public statements advocating reforms to curtail the power of the ruling Al Khalifa family and confessions that appeared to have been coerced while the defendants were in incommunicado detention.

“The mind-boggling verdicts in these cases did not mention a single recognizable criminal offense, instead pointing to speeches the defendants made, meetings they attended, and their calls for peaceful street protests in February and March 2011,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain's Cassation Court has proven its inability to protect the most basic rights guaranteed in Bahrain's Constitution and the international treaties it has signed.”

The Cassation Court confirmed the life sentences of 7 of the 13 and prison sentences ranging between 5 and 15 years for the others. The High Court of Appeal had upheld the convictions on September 4, 2012, in what amounted to a re-trial that relied on the same evidence the military court had considered.

The Cassation Court ruling ends any possibility of a judicial reversal of the convictions and sentences, and comes despite the government's pledge to carry out the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which called on authorities to “commute the sentences of all persons charged with offenses involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence.” The commission also called for criminal investigations into the role of security forces, including their high command, which the government has failed to carry out.

Cherif Bassiouni, who headed the independent commission, told Human Rights Watch in November that these accountability recommendations were “either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly.”

“You can't say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence, and an officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range gets only seven years,” Bassiouni said.

What other IFEX members are saying

Freedom House condemns Bahrain High Court's decision to uphold sentences of pro-democracy leaders (Freedom House)

"The activists, who include 2012 Freedom Award winner Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, are a symbol of the widespread demand of the Bahraini people for political reform, and their continued imprisonment is a reflection of the government's unwillingness to meet this demand."

Bahrain: ANHRI calls on Bahraini Authorities to immediately release the activists (The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information)

“The judgment issued against the activists eliminates hope that Bahrain's authorities would answer to international and regional calls to release the activists.”

Memorandum: Bahrain's judiciary dismisses BICI recommendations in relation to the 13 jailed activists (Bahrain Centre for Human Rights)

"The BICI report presented in detail the role of the accused in the events, and what they suffered during the arrest, search, detention, investigation and in the national safety courts, which are directly related to the seriousness of the accusations and the legality of the evidence and judgments."

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