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Bahrain court orders retrial for 21 activists

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Appeals court rules that opposition activists, including hunger striker Abdulhadi al-KhawajaA Bahraini appeals court has ordered a retrial in a civil court in the cases of 21 opposition activists, including hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, alleged to have been involved in the Gulf kingdom's uprising last year.

The Court of Cassation on Monday accepted the appeal of the human rights activists who were convicted by a military court last year; they include Khawaja and Ibrahim Sharif.

"The court is [ordering] that the trial take place again and that testimony from prosecution and defence witnesses be heard once more as if it is a new trial," BNA, the country's official news agency, said.

"Cassation Court rulings do not allow for releasing defendants as long as they were imprisoned when presented to the first trial."

Their case will go back to the Appellate Court for a retrial. A date has yet to be set, but a lawyer told Al Jazeera that it was expected within the next couple of weeks.

Mohammed al-Jishi, a defence lawyer who attended Monday's session, said the judge stated that the activists would not be released. International rights groups have said they should be freed without condition.

Khadija al-Mousawi, the wife of Khawaja, said after the court ruling that this should not be considered a victory. "This is not a victory, so i am very surprised people are claiming it as so," she said, referring to the fact that the activists were still in jail.

"Set them free first, then set a retrial, if it has to happen."

Discussing the current status of her husband's hunger strike, she said, "My husband is on his 82nd day of his hunger strike, and yes, he has been force fed for the last five days."

Found guilty by military court

The convicted men, none of whom appeared in court, are believed to be among hundreds that an international rights commission said in November were tortured during a period of martial law.

They were sentenced by a military court last year for organising protests in the uprising that sought to give Shias a greater voice in the affairs of the strategic island nation, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

The main charge was "forming a terrorist group with intent to overturn the system of government", but also included collaborating with a foreign state - an apparent reference to Shia power Iran. Seven of those have been tried in absentia.
 
Khawaja and seven other opposition figures were sentenced to life in prison last June for their roles in the protests.

Bahrain's leader says his government has made critical reforms, but the opposition says the reforms fell short of their demands for a direct role in key political and security decisions.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based monitoring group, says they have evidence that detainees in Bahrain continue to be tortured by security forces.

Khawaja has been on a more than two-month-long hunger strike over his life sentence.

Responding to the announcement, Khawaja's daughter Maryam took to her Twitter profile to say the retrial would have little impact on her father's hunger strike.

"Abdulhadi Alkhawaja did not go on #HungerStrike saying death or retrial, he said death or freedom. A retrial doesn't mean much", Maryam al-Khawja said on the microblogging service.

At least 50 people have been killed in unrest since February 2011.


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