A Bahraini court has ordered a retrial for jailed hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and 20 other men convicted in a military court of leading last year’s pro-democracy uprising, but ruled they would remain in jail until new verdicts are reached.
The Sunni Muslim monarchy crushed mass protests led by Bahrain’s Shiite majority with Saudi military help a year ago. However, Shiite unrest has resurged of late.
Al-Khawaja, who with his fellow defendants will now be tried in a civilian court, has been refusing food for more than two months and is at risk of dying, his family has said.
“The court is [ordering] that the trial take place again and that testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses be heard once more as if it is a new trial,” the official Bahraini News Agency said yesterday.
“Cassation Court rulings do not allow for releasing defendants as long as they were imprisoned during the first trial,” it said.
Defense lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi, who attended yesterday’s session, said the presiding judge stated that the men would not be released. International rights groups have said they should be freed without conditions.
The convicted men — none of whom appeared in court — are believed to be among hundreds that an international rights commission said in November last year were tortured during a period of martial law imposed to help quell the uprising.
They were sentenced by a military court last year for organizing the protests led by majority Shiite Muslims that threatened the Sunni Muslim monarchy’s grip on power.
The main charge was “forming a terrorist group with intent to overturn the system of government,” but also included collaborating with a foreign state — an apparent reference to Shiite power Iran across the Gulf from Bahrain.
Eight of the group were given life sentences, including Khawaja and opposition leaders Hassan Mushaimaa and Abdulwahhab Hussein. They had expressed support for turning the Persian Gulf state into a republic.
Although the government accused the protesters of having Shiite sectarian aims, the activists include Sunni Ibrahim Sharif, leader of the secular opposition party Waad. Sharif was serving a five-year term.