x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bahrain court adjourns retrial of 20 leading opposition 'plotters'

Among the detainees – including seven who remain at large – are the leader of the opposition group Waad, Ibrahim Sharif, who had been sentenced to five years in prison, and the prominent activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who had been given a life sentence.

A Bahraini court yesterday adjourned until September 4 the retrial of 20 leading opposition figures, all who had been previously convicted of plotting to overthrow the Sunni monarchy during the uprising that began in February 2011.

Among the detainees, including seven who remain at large, are the leader of the opposition group Waad, Ibrahim Sharif, who had been sentenced to five years in prison, and the prominent activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who spent 110 days on a hunger strike this year. He had been given a life sentence.

Lawyers for the defendants said that the judge halted proceedings yesterday after several of the detainees in court began chanting that they would sacrifice their blood for Bahrain. Unlike previous hearings, yesterday's court session was held behind closed doors.

The defendants' original convictions by a military tribunal were part of a wave of prosecutions that followed the protests that shook the country in the Arab Spring.

The government ordered retrials in April after Bahrain's independent commission of inquiry into the uprising expressed concern about the military proceedings in its December 2011 report.

Bahrain's opposition has continued to argue, however, that the civilian trials are unfair.

"Actually most of the verdicts have been political decisions," said Faten Al Haddad, a lawyer who has worked on several cases related to the unrest. "It's not on the judge to decide."

The court also announced verdicts on some of the 57 cases pending appeal. Several detainees charged with kidnapping a policeman had their convictions overturned and were released on Tuesday.

Despite their leader's detention, the Waad bloc held a rare meeting with Bahrain's justice minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa, last week and raised their case for government reform. The minister urged the party to "take clear and definitive positions" against violence in the localised demonstrations that continue to dot the kingdom.

Also yesterday, Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and shotgun shells to disperse protesters in several Shiite villages and police announced the arrest of 11 people connect to the protests.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Assciated Press and Agence France-Presse