Bahraini court overturns sentences for protesters

DUBAI Wed Dec 26, 2012 7:11pm IST

Anti-government protesters gesture as they walk towards riot police (unseen, behind tear gas) blocking a road leading to the village of Diraz, west of Manama November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Anti-government protesters gesture as they walk towards riot police (unseen, behind tear gas) blocking a road leading to the village of Diraz, west of Manama November 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahraini appeals court on Wednesday overturned death and prison sentences issued earlier to protesters for their role in a pro-democracy uprising, a defence lawyer said.

Bahrain has been convulsed by unrest since February 2011 following demonstrations led by majority Shi'ites demanding democratic change in the Sunni-led monarchy.

The ruling Al Khalifa family brought in Gulf Arab troops, mainly from Saudi Arabia, and imposed two months of martial law to end the uprising. Thousands were arrested and military trials were instituted during the martial law period.

The High Criminal Court of Appeals commuted the death sentence issued last year for two men convicted of killing two policemen to life in prison, lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told Reuters.

The court commuted the life sentences for two others involved in the same case to 15 years in jail, he said.

The court also cut to 15 years in prison the life sentences issued in October 2011 for 13 men for killing a Pakistan citizen during the protests, Jishi said. One man was set free.

"I don't view these sentences as being reduced," said Jishi, who defended seven people in the murder of the Pakistani national's case.

"I think that if the court had applied the recommendations of the independent human rights commission the other 13 would have been acquitted."

Widespread and excessive force, including confessions under torture, was detailed in a commission led by Cherif Bassiouni, a respected United Nations human rights lawyer, which published its findings and recommended measures to stop them.

The Bahrain government says it has taken steps to address the brutality of security forces by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations to monitor abuses.

But little progress has been made in addressing the grievances that led to the protests and talks with the opposition stalled.

The Shi'ite opposition wants a constitutional monarchy and a more equitable political system that would allow them to have greater representation, ending decades-old discrimination against them in jobs including the army and security forces.

The appeals court also reduced sentences of 15 years in prison that were handed last year to 15 people for the attempted murder of a soldier, vandalizing the buildings at the University of Bahrain and "inciting hatred of the ruling system", Jishi said.

The new sentences vary between three, five and seven years in jail.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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