A Bahraini appeals court has ordered retrials for 21 activists including human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who has been on a hunger strike for 82 days and counting. Last summer, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison for his role in organizing the widespread anti-government protests in the Gulf island kingdom in 2011. The official charges against him were “forming a terrorist group with intent to overturn the system of government” as well as “collaborating with a foreign state,” apparently a reference to Shia-led Iran. Bahrain, a U.S. ally that houses its Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has a majority Shi’ite population that has long described discrimination under the Sunni-led monarchy.
None of the convicted men appeared in court and they have not been released. International human rights organizations have called for them to be freed. Khadija Al-Mousawi, Al-Khawaja’s wife, said to Al Jazeera that “This is not a victory, so i am very surprised people are claiming it as so.” She also said that her husband has been force-fed for the past five days, tied to his bed and is in effect being assassinated “in a very slow and painful way,” according to the New York Times. The new trials are simply a way for the government to “buy time,” Al-Mousawi noted in an online news conference, adding that “It’s the same system, the same people, different clothes, different buildings.”
The 21 activists were convicted by a military tribunal and are to be retried in a civil court that will review “the proceedings from the beginning.” They are among hundreds whom an independent rights commission said were tortured in 2011, when martial law was imposed.
The Bahraini king has claimed that it has implemented reforms or is in the process of doing so but activists charge that little more than window dressing has occurred as no senior officials have been held accountable and no one has been released who had been imprisoned for their political beliefs. Overall, the regime has “resisted fundamental change” says the New York Times. As one example, while authorities have called for the installment of video cameras in police stations, police have responded by taking protesters to other locations, including a youth hostel and a police equestrian school, to beat them.
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Photo Bahraini demonstrators in London by amnestylondon