UN human rights chief ‘deeply regrets’ conviction of Bahraini activists

NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) -- The United Nations (UN) human rights chief has said the Bahraini appeals court's decision earlier this week to uphold the conviction of 20 human rights activists and political opponents is 'deeply regrettable'.

A Bahraini appeals court on Tuesday decided to uphold the convictions and sentences of the 20 individuals who were initially convicted last year by Bahrain's Court of National Safety, essentially a military court, on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the Government, amongst other charges. Some were also charged with espionage.

After the convictions were upheld by the National Safety Appeals Court, the Government announced that the cases would be transferred to civilian courts, where appeal proceedings took place this year.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, underlined that it is not a crime to criticize the government and call for reforms. "The Government must engage in an open, genuine and meaningful dialogue with the opposition, across the political spectrum," she said. "This is the only constructive way to defuse an increasingly tense situation."

Since February of this year, there have been sporadic clashes in Bahrain between security forces and demonstrators, a year after widespread civil protests first emerged in the Gulf country.

"I had welcomed the Bahraini Government's decision to transfer these cases to civilian courts, as military trials of civilians raise serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice is concerned," said Pillay. "But now, given the gravity of the charges, the scant evidence available beyond confessions, the serious allegations of torture and the irregularities in the trial processes, it is extremely disappointing that the convictions and sentences have been upheld in appeals proceedings that often took place behind closed doors."

The appeal proceedings began in open session, but the court subsequently closed the hearings, purportedly for national security reasons.

The UN human rights chief also pointed to a separate case in August, in which a prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of taking part in illegal gatherings. Pillay reiterated her call to Bahraini authorities to release all of those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.

Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said he was concerned about the convictions being upheld, calling the life imprisonment sentences harsh. "[Ban] urges the Bahraini authorities to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to ensure that due process is observed," his spokesman said.

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