A Bahraini activist who has refused food for months and a score of others convicted of plotting against the Persian Gulf state were granted new trials on Monday, meeting a key demand of human rights groups who have argued that their previous military trials were grossly unfair and tainted by torture.
But while the decision offers a glimmer of hope for the jailed activists, it does not mean all the defendants will be freed as they wait for new trials before the Supreme Court of Appeal, according to the official Bahrain News Agency. That news disappointed members of the opposition, who have pushed along with international human rights groups for the inmates' release.
"This ruling is just a step in the right direction, but the street will not calm down until all the prisoners are freed," opposition party official Sayed Hadi Mousawi told Reuters news service.
The best-known defendant is Abdulhadi Khawaja, a human rights activist who has spent more than 80 days on hunger strike to protest the life sentence he was given after agitating against the Sunni monarchy. He and other protesters demanded more democracy and a greater voice for Shiite Muslims.
One of his daughters, Maryam Khawaja, told the Guardian that the retrials were merely a delaying tactic that allowed Bahrain to score political points while keeping her father and other dissidents in jail. As Khawaja has continued his hunger strike, the calls for him to be freed and receive medical treatment have mounted, including from officials in Denmark, where Khawaja has dual citizenship.
While most of the defendants will stay in jail, one was released Monday after his sentence was reduced to time already served, the Associated Press reported.
The unrest in Bahrain began more than a year ago, when an outbreak of protests was met with an aggressive crackdown. Though Bahrain created an independent commission that investigated alleged abuses and found that protesters were tortured, the government hasn't carried out all of the panel's recommendations. Amnesty International recently issued a report arguing that "piecemeal reforms" were inadequate.
The ruling family alleges that the protests have been stirred up by Iran. Regime loyalists have argued that the government needs to take a firm hand against violent attacks by protesters, who have been seen hurling Molotov cocktails at police.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Bahraini Shiite Muslim women rally last week to show their solidarity with Abdulhadi Khawaja, a prisoner who began his hunger strike, in the village of Jidhafs. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images