UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] on Thursday condemned [press release] a Bahraini court for sentencing 21 human rights advocates, political activists and opposition leaders to harsh punishments. The court sentenced the protestors [profiles, PDF] to lengthy prison sentences, including life terms. Ban urged Bahraini authorities to comply with international human rights obligations such as ensuring the right to due process and a fair trial and permitting the defendants to appeal their sentences. A spokesperson for the secretary-general relayed Ban's sentiments [text] about how Bahraini authorities should proceed:
The Secretary-General hopes that the Bahraini authorities will do everything possible to create an environment conducive for the start of a concrete national dialogue announced by His Majesty King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, and believes that it should be genuine, inclusive and lead to tangible outcomes which address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.The sentences were imposed as a result of Bahrain's crackdown on the recent wave of demonstrations calling for democracy in the country.
Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court sentenced the 21 activists [JURIST report] on Wednesday for anti-government protests conducted earlier this year. The convicted were charged [charges, PDF] with "plotting to topple the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain," but rights organizations have denied this, stating that all convicted were protesters exercising freedom of speech. The National Safety Courts, special military tribunals, were instituted in mid-March under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's [official profile] three-month state of emergency [JURIST report] and have been internationally criticized, most recently [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The court sentenced nine citizens [JURIST report] to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a police officer in May. In April, the court sentenced four protestors to death, a rarity in Bahrain, and upheld the sentences [JURIST reports] for two of the men, who were accused of murdering police officers. All of the charges levied in the National Safety Court have been disputed by Bahraini citizens and international rights organizations. In an effort to quiet protests that have been ongoing since March, last week, the Justice Ministry declared they would take action to lift the ban [JURIST report] on the leading opposition party, the National Democratic Action Society [website]. The leftist opposition party, known as Waad and aligned with the largest Shi'ite opposition group, was shut down in April during the pro-democracy protests [JURIST report].