Bahrain’s highest appeals court on Monday postponed for a week the final verdict in the case of 21 democracy activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the kingdom’s rulers, a decision criticized by Amnesty International.
The Court of Cessation, which had been scheduled to issue its decision on Monday, said it would now deliver it on Monday next week.
The postponement came amid escalating tensions in the Sunni-ruled kingdom after a week of near-daily anti-government protests that coincided with Sunday’s controversial Formula One Grand Prix race.
Witnesses said the courthouse was cordoned off by security forces as the postponement was announced in an effort to prevent a planned protest by al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition group in Bahrain.
Among the activists appealing their conviction is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a dual Bahraini-Danish citizen who has been on hunger strike since Feb. 8 or Feb. 9 to demand his release from prison, where he is serving a life sentence.
Amnesty in a statement slammed the postponement as “toying” with al-Khawaja’s life.
“The Bahrain authorities’ delay tactics are toying with the life of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on death’s doorstep as he enters his 75th day on hunger strike,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
The London-based rights watchdog described the defendants in this case as “prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression amid anti-government protests last year.”
On Sunday, a representative from Bahrain’s public prosecution said al-Khawaja’s doctors assured him that the Shiite activist “is in good and stable health and is getting all necessary medical care.”
His deteriorating health has raised fears that he may die in prison, an event that could trigger widespread protests and further unrest in the Gulf kingdom.
Al-Khawaja’s wife, Khadija al-Moussawi, said on Sunday that her husband “stopped drinking water” as of last Friday.
She said in a telephone call with him on Saturday that “his voice sounded weak and he spoke slowly.”
Al-Khawaja was convicted with 20 other opposition figures after mass protests that the government crushed last year in a crackdown that left at least 35 people dead, including five from torture, according to an independent probe.
Rights groups and Western governments have repeatedly called for the release of Bahrain’s political prisoners, but many remain in jail.
The opposition had used the media presence for the Grand Prix race to intensify protests over the past week.
In related developments, a protester found dead on a rooftop after clashes with police during the Grand Prix was apparently killed by birdshot rounds and his body bore several bruises, his brother said on Monday.
Salah Abbas Habib, 36, was buried later on Monday in a funeral attended by about 15,000 people, a witness said.
Following the ceremony, hundreds of protesters threw stones at a police station in the district of al-Bilad al-Qadeem in Manama. Police fired teargas and sound grenades.
His body was retrieved by his family on Monday and a coroner’s report said he had died of birdshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, his brother said.
“We just got the body back now. He had birdshot wounds in his chest and abdomen,” Hussein Abbas Habib said by telephone from Manama, adding that his brother was also badly bruised on his hands, back and legs.