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DUBAI: An appeals court ruling confirming prison terms for 13 protest leaders in Bahrain this week shows that the Gulf Arab state’s judicial system is flawed and unable to protect basic rights, international watchdog groups said.
Bahrain, a US ally against Iran and home to the US Fifth Fleet, has been in political ferment since a street revolt led by majority Shias erupted in early 2011, part of a tide of unrest against autocratic rulers across the Arab world.
On Monday, Bahrain’s highest appeals court upheld sentences ranging from five years in prison to life that were originally handed down by a military court in June 2011 to protest leaders, a ruling that could kindle further unrest.
Bahrain’s case has stirred international criticism, with US officials calling for acquittals to help restore calm and stability in the island monarchy. New York-based Human Rights Watch said its own investigation showed that evidence against the convicted men was based on public statements in which they called only for reforms and on confessions apparently obtained through coercion.
“The mind-boggling verdicts in these cases did not mention a single recognisable criminal offence, 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, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
“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,” he said in a statement. The government says Bahrain’s courts are independent, though the Sunni Muslim ruling Al Khalifa family holds senior cabinet portfolios including justice and key posts in the judiciary. The Court of Cassation is headed by an Al Khalifa relative and King Hamad heads the Supreme Judicial Council.
In Geneva, UN human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said she “regrets” the convictions despite “conclusions of the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry and appeals by the international community concerning the judicial procedure and allegations of torture”.
“These persons are political and human rights activists and we are concerned they may have been convicted wrongly for legitimate activities,” Pouilly told a news briefing yesterday Reuters