Bahrain rejects appeal by opposition activists and upholds jail sentences


Bahrain’s highest court yesterday rejected an appeal by 13 opposition activists who were convicted of involvement in the Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Eight of 20 defendants were given life sentences in part of a crackdown on dissent since anti-government demonstrations erupted in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The court refused to reconsider the sentences or convictions, which were handed down by a military-led tribunal created under temporary martial law-style rules. The other 12 received sentences ranging from five to 15 years, with seven convicted in absentia. The activists have claimed they faced abuses while in custody. They were denied access to legal counsel and say they were coerced into confessing.

The high-profile case has brought international pressure to bear on Bahrain, criticised even by its friends for failing to implement reforms recommended by an independent commission of inquiry.

UK foreign office minister Alistair Burt expressed “deep dismay” at the ruling in a statement. France’s foreign ministry also expressed regret at the ruling and said it had hoped for leniency to help promote reconciliation. Amnesty International said: “This unjust decision will confirm the view of many that the judiciary is more concerned about toeing the government’s line than upholding the rule of law and the rights of all Bahrainis.”

Bahraini opposition activists, meanwhile, have protested that a British parliamentary committee has excluded critical evidence submitted to it for a controversial inquiry into UK relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The inquiry has been troubled since it was announced last year. Saudi Arabia, which led the Gulf force that intervened in Bahrain in support of the government, said it was “insulted” by the move. – (Guardian Service)