Bahrain's highest appeals court has ordered a retrial for a prominent opposition leader and 20 other activists, some of whom had been sentenced to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the country's Sunni rulers.
The Manama court ruled on Monday that a new trial of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and 20 other opposition members would have to take place and witnesses and the defense heard once again. The defendants would be kept in jail in the process, state news agency BNA reported.
"The court accepted the appeal and ordered a trial in the court of appeal," a civil court, Mohamed al-Jishy told the AFP news agency on Monday. "We were hoping the verdict would be annulled but the decision will give us an opportunity to defend our clients," Jishy said, adding that no date had been set for the new trial.
A special military tribunal had convicted the 21 mainly Shiite dissidents in June for their roles in an uprising against Bahrain's Sunni rulers that was brutally quashed last year.
Seven of the defendants, including al-Khawaja, received life-time prison sentences. Fourteen others were sentenced to between two and 15 years in jail. Seven of the 21 were convicted in absentia and remain at large.
Khawaja, who has become a symbol of the opposition movement, has been on a hunger strike since February 8. He holds dual Bahraini-Danish citizenship.
Bahraini activists, who are overwhelmingly members of the Shiite majority, complain that Shiites are subject to discrimination and lack the educational and professional opportunities that a small Sunni elite enjoys.
ncy/slk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)