Bahrain rejects activists' appeal


A Bahraini civilian court has upheld sentences against 20 leaders of last year's uprising, the government's Information Affairs Authority said, verdicts which could fuel political tensions in the Gulf Arab country.

The verdicts, originally issued by a military court, include eight life sentences. Defence lawyers have said the civilian court's decision may still be appealed.

Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based, has suffered political unrest since a protest movement dominated by majority Shia Muslims erupted in February 2011, during a wave of revolts against authoritarian governments across the Arab world.

Eight of the 20 men received life sentences in a military court last year, including rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa, who had called for the Gulf Arab monarchy to be turned into a republic.

Sunni Muslim opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif is serving a five-year sentence. Seven of the 20 men were tried in
absentia, including blogger Ali Abdulemam, who was given a 15-year sentence and is in hiding.

"The verdict does not come as a shock. With no international consequences and accountability for the Bahrain regime, they have no incentive to change," Khawaja's daughter Maryam, a dissident activist abroad, said on Twitter.

Sunnis who fear the rise of Shia Islamists if the government compromises with opposition demands for political reform praised the ruling. "God is great! God is great!" wrote cleric Mohammed Khalid on Twitter.