Bahrain says to review some verdicts over unrest

Protesters look out for riot police as they stand next to garbage containers thrown on the street during clashes in the village of Sitra south of Manama, on Jan. 1, 2012.
DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Monday it would set up a judicial panel to review some verdicts a military court issued over anti-government demonstrations led last year by its Shiite Muslim majority, which the Sunni-led kingdom crushed.

A statement on the official BNA news agency said the move came in response to the recommendations of an inquiry Bahrain commissioned into the turmoil.

Military courts issued at least five death sentences and sentenced some opposition leaders to life terms for organizing protests after last year’s unrest, which came as protest movements swept across the Arab world.

Washington, whose Fifth Fleet Bahrain hosts, has said a $53 million arms sale to the island kingdom depends on its response to the recommendations of the inquiry, which found detainees had been systematically abused and in some cases tortured to death.

Monday’s statement said judges from civilian courts would be part of a body reviewing verdicts issued by the military tribunal that were not subject to appeal.

Rulings subject to review would include convictions for statements that did not amount to incitement to violence, it said. The inquiry had criticized such convictions as punishing free speech.

The “National Safety” tribunals, in which Bahrain prosecuted some of the more than 1,000 people detained in the aftermath of protests that rocked the kingdom in February, did not initially allow appeals.

Bahrain subsequently transferred some cases to civilian courts and allowed them to hear appeals of verdicts handed down by the military tribunals.

Separately, BNA said the head of the body charged with implementing the recommendations of the inquiry was continuing to work, apparently responding to a report in the opposition Al Wasat daily that he had resigned.

The inquiry dismissed Bahrain’s claim that Shiite Iran stoked unrest through its co-religionists who complain of discrimination in access to land and state employment.

( / 02.01.2012)

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