Bahrain: Top Court upholds lifes entences against eight actvists

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja staged a more than three-month hunger strik

07 January, 21:43

(ANSAmed) - Rome, January 7 - Bahrain's highest court has upheld jail sentences against 20 opposition figures - including eight sentenced to life in prison - in a decision likely to spark further street protests in the Gulf nation and draw renewed criticism from its western allies, The Guardian reports.

Among the eight sentenced to life in prison is rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a more than three-month hunger strike last year to protest against the verdicts. Al-Khawaja also holds Danish citizenship, and his case has brought international pressure to bear on Bahrain, including efforts by Denmark to free him. The other 12 received sentences ranging from five to 15 years, with seven convicted in absentia. Defence lawyer Jalil al-Aradi said the court had refused to reconsider the sentences or convictions, which were handed down in 2011 by a military-led tribunal created under temporary martial law-style rules. The group has claimed they faced abuses while in custody.

Scattered protests broke out in Bahrain shortly after the court's decision, which could close all further appeal options.

The Court decision is part of a widespread crackdown on dissent since an Arab spring-inspired uprising began nearly two years ago in the strategic island kingdom, which is home to the US navy's 5th Fleet. Bahrain's majority Shia, who have led sporadic unrest in the past, claim they face systematic discrimination at the hands of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain's rulers have offered some reforms, including giving more powers to the elected parliament, but opposition leaders say they fall short of demands for a role in key government affairs.

Last year, the official Bahrain News Agency said the charges included "plotting to overthrow the regime" and having "foreign intelligence contacts" - a reference to Shiite powerhouse Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Bahraini leaders have accused Iran of having links to the protesters. Tehran has strongly criticised crackdowns against Shiites in Bahrain, but denies providing any active assistance. (ANSAmed).

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