[JURIST] The highest Bahraini appellate court on Monday upheld the convictions of 13 prominent pro-democracy protestors convicted by military tribunal in 2011 on charges [charges, PDF] of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Bahrain's Court of Cassation rejected the appeals [AFP report] of the 13 activists, all part of a group of 20 [BYSHR profiles, PDF] convicted by the military National Safety Courts after taking part in Bahrain's 2011 anti-government protests. The seven who did not appeal were convicted in absentia because they were out of the country or in hiding. Of the 20 convicts eight received life sentences [JURIST report], including human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who last year demonstrated against his and the other convictions with a 110-day hunger strike [JURIST report]. The ruling of the Court of Cassation is final and cannot be further appealed.
The National Safety Courts, special military tribunals, were instituted in March 2011 under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's [official profile] three-month state of emergency [JURIST report] and have been internationally criticized, especially by human rights groups [JURIST report] such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. In May HRW urged Bahrain to release the remaining prisoners [JURIST report] because the trial violated international fair trial standards in that the convictions were based on apparently coerced confessions and the individuals were merely engaged in peaceful protest. In April a Bahrain appeals court ruled that al-Khawaja and the other protesters would be retried in civilian court [JURIST report], prompting the review by the Court of Cassation. Also in April Amnesty International (AI) issued its own report [JURIST report] alleging human rights violations continue in Bahrain despite reforms. Also that month, four independent UN human rights experts called for al-Khawaja's immediate release [JURIST report].