Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged Bahrain to immediately release [press release] the leaders of last year's anti-government protests, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. HRW states that the 14 individuals have been jailed for more than a year with no evidence of any wrongdoing produced against them. The 14 protesters were convicted in military court and were sentenced to between two years and life in prison. HRW describes the trial as "mind-boggling" and states that it violated international fair trial standards because the convictions were based on apparently coerced confessions and the individuals were merely engaged in peaceful protest. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) [JURIST report], appointed by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official profile], concluded that detained protesters were subject to physical torture, both as a punishment and as a means to coerce confessions. The report further concludes military court verdicts should be reviewed by civilian courts and anyone convicted for engaging in internationally-protected peaceful protest should be released. HRW has called on Bahrain to comply with the BICI's findings and immediately release Al-Khwaja and his co-defendants.
A Bahrain appeals court ruled Monday that al-Khawaja and the other protesters would be retried in civilian court [JURIST report]. HRW reported on Sunday that Bahrain's police officers regularly abuse minor detainees [JURIST report] before transporting them to police stations. Several other human rights organizations have also been critical of Bahrain. In April Amnesty International (AI) issued its own report [JURIST report] alleging human rights violations continue in Bahrain despite reforms. Also in April, four independent UN human rights experts called for al-Khawaja's immediate release [JURIST report]. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya [official website] expressed concern that Al-Khawaja's trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights. Last year, a Bahrain court sentenced four protesters to death [JURIST report] for their roles in the killing of two police officers committed during mass anti-government protests. Three others were sentenced to life in prison.