[JURIST] A civilian court in Bahrain upheld lengthy prison sentences for 20 opposition and human rights activists on Tuesday, including eight life sentences. The lesser prison terms upheld ranged between five and 12 years [AP report], and seven of the activists were convicted in absentia. The activists are accused of plotting to overthrow [BBC report] Bahrain’s government. Tuesday’s ruling came from a civilian court, but the defendants were initially tried by a semi-military court [Telegraph report]. In April the Bahrain Court of Cassation ruled that the activists must be retried in a civilian court [JURIST report]. Among the activists whose sentences were upheld is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who in May 2012 ended a 110-day hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest against his imprisonment.
Tension between Bahrain’s government and protesters has persisted since government forces clashed with protesters in February 2011 during pro-democracy demonstrations. During the protests the country’s Shiite majority sought greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. At the end of August a Bahraini appeals court overturned the conviction [JURIST report] of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab [JURIST news archive]. Bahrain’s government attributed the ruling [AP report] to “uncertainty regarding the evidence submitted to support the lawsuit.” In July Amnesty International [advocacy website] urged the government [JURIST report] of Bahrain to release all prisoners of conscience [press release] immediately. The Bahrain Information Affairs authority announced in July that they had brought charges against 15 police officers [JURIST report] for alleged “mistreatment of inmates in custody.” In June the government announced that it would pay $2.6 million in restitution [JURIST report] to citizens who lost family members during the violent protests to comply with recommendations of an independent commission who concluded that Bahrain authorities had used excessive force and tortured detainees involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations.