Reporters Without Borders welcomes the decision to retry 21 human rights activists and government opponents who received jail sentences from a military court last year for their dissident activities. They are now to be tried before a civilian court.
The defendants include two bloggers, Abduljalil Al-Singace and Ali Abdulemam, and the human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days and is in very poor health. The trial began on 8 May but was immediately adjourned until 21 May because Khawaja and another defendant are hospitalized and were too ill to attend.
“This new trial will hopefully redress the travesty of justice that these activists received when they were court martialled,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They must now be acquitted and those responsible for mistreating them must be called to account for their acts.”
The jail sentences that were imposed at the end of the original military trial on 22 June 2011 were upheld on appeal on 27 September as regards 14 of the defendant including the blogger Abdeljalil Al-Singace, who had been given a life sentence.
They were convicted of creating and running a terrorist group designed to change the constitution and system of monarchy by force, being in contact with a foreign terrorist group that acts in the interests of a foreign country and carries out hostile actions against Bahrain, and raising funds for this group.
The other seven, who had been convicted in absentia, were unable to appeal without first surrendering to the authorities. They include Ali Abdulemam, who was given a 15-year sentence and has been missing for more than a year.
Abdulhadi Khawaja’s daughter, Zaynab Al-Khawaja, an activist who often posts on Twitter (@angryarabia), was arrested after trying to visit her father on 21 April and has been held ever since. She had been due to appear in court yesterday. A hearing is now scheduled for 15 May.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who was arrested on his return from a visit to Lebanon on 5 May on various charges including insulting government officials in Tweets. He is next due to appear on court on 22 May on a charge of inciting others to participate in illegal demonstrations.