Amnesty International Demands Bahrain Free Prisoners of Conscience Following Verdict “Driven by Vindictiveness”

Press Release
September 4, 2012

Amnesty International Demands Bahrain Free Prisoners of Conscience Following Verdict “Driven by Vindictiveness”

Thirteen Men Imprisoned for Exercising Human Rights in 2011 Anti-Government Protest Must Be Released Immediately

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International today urged Bahraini authorities to overturn an appeal court decision upholding the convictions and sentences against 13 opposition activists and again demanded their immediate and unconditional release.

An Amnesty International trial observer was present in court on Tuesday when the High Criminal Court of Appeal in Bahrain upheld the convictions and sentences of the 13 men convicted last year by military courts on charges related to anti-government protests.

“Today’s court decision further engulfs Bahrain in injustice and shows once more that the Bahraini authorities are not on the path of reform, but are rather driven by vindictiveness,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“Rather than uphold the sentences, which range from five years to life in prison for peacefully exercising their human rights, the Bahraini authorities must quash the convictions for the 13 men and release them immediately and unconditionally.”

The 13, including prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and opposition political activist Ebrahim Sharif, were originally sentenced by a military court of appeal in June 2011 to a range of two years to life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

On 30 April 2012, the Court of Cassation ordered their appeal be held before a civilian court. This process began on May 22 and ended with today’s verdict, which was announced in a session than lasted only three minutes.

All prisoners maintain their innocence.

Farida Ismail, Ebrahim Sharif’s wife, said: “I was expecting this outcome, as it is clear to us the government is not ready to be held accountable – its procedures continue as before.”

“There is not enough pressure from abroad. What happens next will depend on which steps are taken by the international community and what states do in the next Universal Periodic Review session. As for our government, it is clearly not ready for justice.”

Bahrain’s human rights record will be under scrutiny during the next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council in mid-September, when the Gulf state will have to confirm its acceptance or rejection of 176 peer recommendations presented to it during the previous UPR session in June.

“Bahrain cannot get a free pass at the UN Human Rights Council. We urge states to tell the Bahraini authorities that today’s verdict crosses a red line, and that they can no longer be considered credible partners,” said Sahraoui.

Amnesty International also repeated its call to Bahraini authorities to order an immediate and independent investigation into allegations made by defendants during previous court hearings that they had been tortured, sexually assaulted, and otherwise ill-treated while in detention in order to coerce “confessions” from them.

Fourteen opposition activists were originally arrested in 2011 after taking part in pro-reform protests in Manama. One of the men was later released. Many have alleged they were tortured during their first few days of detention while being interrogated by officers from the National Security Agency.

Some charges against three of the defendants were dropped on September 4.

Opposition activists who were arrested include: Hassan Mshaima’, Abdelwahab Hussain, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Mohammad Habib al-Miqdad, Abdel-Jalil al-Miqdad, Sa’eed Mirza al-Nuri, Mohammad Hassan Jawwad, Mohammad Ali Ridha Isma’il, Abdullah al-Mahroos, Abdul-Hadi Abdullah Hassan al-Mukhodher, Ebrahim Sharif, Salah Abdullah Hubail al-Khawaja.

Al-Hur Yousef al-Somaikh has since been released, having served his sentence after the Court of Cassation reduced it to six months in prison.

Other prisoners of conscience currently held in Bahrain include:

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights is serving a three-year prison sentence for calling for and participating in ‘illegal gatherings.’ His appeal on this case is due to start on September 10.

Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the former president of the Bahrain Teacher’s Association (BTA), is serving a ten-year prison term imposed by a military court for using his position "to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process and inciting hatred of the regime," among other charges. There is no evidence proving that he used or advocated violence.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.