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Bahrain court upholds jail terms for uprising figureheads

A civilian court in Bahrain has upheld sentences against leading figures from last year's unsuccessful uprising. The verdicts were initially issued by a military court. At least seven of the men face life in prison.

The government's Information Affairs Authority announced on Tuesday that a civilian appeals court upheld the prison terms handed out to 20 leaders of last year's popular uprising. Defense lawyers said that the verdicts could still be appealed.

Seven of the defendants were tried in absentia, as they have not been captured by Bahrain's authorities. A least seven of the 20, another report said eight, face life in prison. They were accused of plotting to overthrow the country's government.  According to the AFP news agency, a 21st defendant was acquitted at the hearing.

Opposition leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja - who just ended a 110-day hunger strike - was among the people to lose their civilian retrial following conviction by a military court. He faces a life sentence.

"The verdict does not come as a shock. With no international consequences and accountability for the Bahrain regime, they have no incentive to change," Khawaja's daughter Maryam, a dissident based abroad, wrote on Twitter.

Bahrain was hit by public unrest in February 2011, one of the first places to see civilian protests in the so-called Arab Spring. The Sunni-led Bahrain monarchy faced particularly vocal objections from members the majority Shiite population. Its response to the unrest, at one point drafting in military support from neighboring Saudi Arabia, drew hefty international interest.

Bahrain's monarchy is considered friendly in the West, the small kingdom hosts the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy.

msh/pfd (AFP, Reuters)