Bahrain should release Al-Khawaja and 13 other activists granted appeals today

In response to a Bahraini court today announcing that prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and 13 other opposition activists jailed for their role in anti-government protests last year will be granted an appeal, Amnesty International has renewed its call for their immediate release.

The appeal will take place in a civil court. The sentences imposed on Al-Khawaja and 20 other activists, seven of them tried in absentia, have however not been quashed. Fourteen of the activists, including Al-Khawaja, might all remain in custody for the duration of their appeal, except for one.

The Court of Cassation said Al-Hur Yousef al-Somaikh’s original sentence was flawed and it was reduced from two years to six months imprisonment. He is expected to be released today.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the 13 other activists - who are all civilians - should not even be on trial in the first place, let alone tried in a military court.

“They have done nothing but peacefully express their point of view and must be released immediately.”

Amnesty considers Al-Khawaja and the 13 opposition activists held with him to be prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Al-Khawaja’s health has seriously deteriorated since he began a hunger strike some three months ago in protest at his unfair imprisonment. His family visited him in hospital on Sunday and have told Amnesty that he has been force-fed. He explained to his family that on 23 April, a nurse gave him an anaesthetic. When he woke up, he had a tube going from his nose to his stomach feeding him liquids. The tube to the stomach was taken out last Friday. He is currently on an intravenous drip and drinking juice. He had apparently asked the doctor several times to withdraw the tube but his requests have been refused. He also repeatedly asked to see his lawyer and his lawyer has submitted formal requests for a visit; this has been denied for weeks.

Al-Khawaja, a former protection co-ordinator with Irish human rights NGO Front Line Defenders, was arrested in April 2011 and accused of being one of the leaders of anti-government protests. He was tortured in custody and sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court in a grossly unfair trial last June. Amnesty opposes trials of civilians before military courts in all circumstances.

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