U.N. upset by Bahrain's justice system

Jan. 8, 2013 at 1:22 PM
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GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The United Nations is concerned that human rights activists in Bahrain were wrongly convicted for their pro-democracy work, a spokeswoman said.

The highest court in Manama this week upheld the convictions of 13 human rights activists accused of plotting against the government. The sentences range from five years to life in prison.

The ruling was the last opportunity the activists had to reverse their convictions. They were arrested for their roles in 2011 anti-government demonstrations that coincided with the Arab Spring movement that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Cecile Pouilly, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her office regrets the court's decision to uphold the convictions.

"These persons are political and human rights activists and we are concerned they may have been wrongly convicted for legitimate activities," she said in a statement. "We are also concerned by the extreme harshness of some of the sentences, including imprisonment for life."

Bahrain said it's embracing political reforms spelled out by an independent commission of inquiry probing the government's response to a 2011 uprising.

Joe Stork, deputy director of Middle East programs at Human Rights Watch, said courts in Bahrain have shown they're unable to protect basic civil rights. The verdicts, he said, were "mind-boggling."

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