A Bahrain court today upheld the convictions of 13 leading pro-democracy activists, in a judgment that government critics cited as confirmation that the ruling Sunni monarchy is uninterested in negotiating a political solution with the largely Shia opposition movement calling for democratic reform.
“The mind-boggling verdicts in these cases did not mention a single recognizable criminal offense, instead pointing to speeches the defendants made, meetings they attended, and their calls for peaceful street protests in February and March 2011,” said a spokesman for Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain’s Cassation Court has proven its inability to protect the most basic rights guaranteed in Bahrain’s Constitution and the international treaties it has signed.”
Amnesty International called the convictions an outrage and slammed the decision as “further proof of how the country’s justice system simply cannot be relied on.”
“The decision ends all appeals for the dissidents, who were sentenced to between five years and life in prison for their leadership roles in the revolt that began in February 2011, The New York Times reports:
Since pledging to accept reform recommendations made by an independent panel that investigated the uprising — including to commute sentences of those charged with “political expression” — the government has continued to silence its critics. In November, the government stripped 31 people, including former opposition members of Parliament and exiled dissidents, of their citizenship.
“They are trying to pull us toward a security solution,” said Radhi Mohsen al-Mosawi, the acting secretary general of the National Democratic Action Society.
“They have made things so difficult for them, and for us,” said Mr. Mosawi, who added that his group still favored negotiations for a constitutional monarchy. “Our demand is a peaceful demand. It is a minimum demand.”
The Gulf Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has issued a statement of concern over Rajab, who is president of the BCHR, director of the GCHR and deputy secretary general of the Paris-based Federation for International Human Rights. Other international human rights groups, including the World Movement for Democracy, have called for letters of appeal and protest to be addressed to the authorities.
The monarchy’s mass dismissal of labor union activists, who supported a general strike called by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions in support of the non-violent democracy movement, has “sparked a divide between pro- and anti-government labor groups, and has prompted unions in the United States to call on the Obama Administration to revisit its free-trade agreement with this key Washington ally,” reports suggest:.
Since the general strike, Bahrain’s Labor Ministry says all public sector workers have been rehired and only 2 percent in the private sector, or 176 people, remain out of work. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, however, says the number is closer to 500, and many others were asked to accept lower status jobs. Few received back pay.
Critics say the government, in its attempt to divide the opposition, backed a new union umbrella group — the Bahrain Free Labor Union Federation — that promotes itself as “non-political.” The new group supports the government on most labor issues, including the matter of fired workers.
The authorities “have launched an all-out attack on the Bahraini trade union movement,” says the Solidarity Center.
“Thousands of workers have been dismissed for taking part in trade union activities supporting the peaceful calls for greater democracy and reform,” said the Washington-based democracy support group, calling on activists to send a protest message through LabourStart.
“The government is trying to create a federation it can control,” said Abdul Radhi, the assistant secretary general of the original union federation.
“Some members want complete political reform,” through removal of the monarchy, he said. “Some want a constitutional monarchy. Generally, we support the King’s original project when he said he wants Bahrain to be a model of democracy.”
“There is no dominant ideology,” he said. “Our work is based on trade unions.” ?