For Immediate Release: September 28, 2011
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today condemned the harsh prison sentences confirmed by Bahrain’s military court for 21 prominent dissidents. The group said the sentences expose the government’s flawed legal process and its lack of interest in reform.
“Some of the men have credible evidence that they were tortured in custody, but they were not allowed to raise that evidence during their trial, which fell well short of any legitimate legal standard,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.
According to Dooley, eight of the 21 dissidents had life sentences confirmed in today’s appeal. Among those before the military court today were human rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja and political leader Hassan Mushaima. The original June 2011 prison sentences – ranging from two years to life in prison – for the other 19 on trial were also confirmed at today’s hearing.
The 21 dissidents are seen as leaders of the pro-democracy movement that became part of this year’s Arab Spring movement. Bahrain is ruled by a monarchy in which the king’s uncle has been the unelected prime minister for the last 40 years. In response to calls for reform, the Bahrain government cracked down violently on peaceful protests, arresting over 1000 people. Torture in detention was widespread and at least four dissidents have died in custody. Violent attacks on peaceful protests continue almost daily.
The Bahrain government has made no real attempts to engage in negotiation with the democracy movement. Instead, government leaders organized a sham “National Dialogue” with only selected groups.
“The Bahrain government today revealed its real intentions on reform as it condemned these leading opposition figures to years in prison after a show trial,” stated Dooley. “In May, President Obama told the Bahraini government that ‘…you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.’ Unfortunately, the Bahrainis chose to ignore President Obama’s advice, and the U.S. Government has since failed to publicly press that point. Today’s verdicts against peaceful jailed opposition leaders make the prospects of real negotiations, regional stability and democratic reform more remote.”
For more information about the situation in Bahrain, read Dooley’s recent reports from the field, Bahrain: Speaking Softly and Bahrain: A Tortuous Process. To speak with Dooley, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-370-3323.