The Bahraini government on Sunday released two Shiite lawmakers from prison in an effort to comply with political reforms recently drawn up by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website]. Jawad Fairooz and Matar Matar, who had been held in custody for two months [AP report], were arrested in May following their participation in a series of Shiite-led, pro-democracy protests against the Sunni government. Both men are members of the Al Wefaq party [party website, in Arabic], the country's largest Shiite political group. They still face trial on anti-state security charges. The government also released human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajir, along with a number of other unidentified detainees, contending that the prisoners had already served the sentences they would likely receive at trial.
An independent commission is currently investigating human rights violations [JURIST report] related to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Bahrain [BBC backgrounder]. Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court sentenced 21 activists [JURIST report] to eight years to life in prison in June for anti-government protests conducted earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] condemned [JURIST report] the court for sentencing the human rights advocates, political activists and opposition leaders to harsh punishments. The National Safety Courts, special military tribunals, were instituted in mid-March under al-Khalifa's three-month state of emergency and have been internationally criticized [JURIST reports] by rights group including 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.