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Bahrain court orders new trial of activist on hunger strike

Bahraini demonstrators hold posters of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja during a protest calling for his release in on April 6, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's wife says a retrial would be "cruel"
  • The Bahraini activist has been on hunger strike for two months
  • His daughter says he and other activists should be freed immediately
  • Al-Khawaja is among eight Shiite activists given life sentences after protests

A court in Bahrain has quashed the life sentence of a prominent activist who has been on a hunger strike, sending his case to the Supreme Court, along with 20 others, the country's official news agency reported Monday.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for more than two months, protesting his sentence.

His wife said Monday she was "very disappointed" by the ruling, predicting that nothing would change.

"This is not positive. Nothing will change. The government is just buying time," Khadija Almousawi said.

"It's very obvious this decision is not for the sake of the prisoners but for the sake of the government to show it is doing something positive. A retrial is cruel for them. It means they have to go through that agony again," she said.

Al-Khawaja's daughter, meanwhile, took to Twitter to say he should be set free.

    "All prisoners of conscience should be released immediately without these unfair trials used as an excuse to prolong detention," Maryam al-Khawaja said.

    The court ruling does not mean the 21 defendants will be set free, Bahrain's state news agency BNA reported.

    Instead, they will get a new trial at the Supreme Court of Appeal "as if it was a trial for the first time," the agency said.

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    Earlier this month opposition groups in Bahrain and politicians around the world called for officials to cancel a Formula 1 motor race there as violent clashes continued between activists and authorities.

    The Bahrain Grand Prix continued as scheduled, but protesters used the international spotlight on the race to call for the release of al-Khawaja.

    On Sunday, Bahrain's Information Ministry denied that it was force-feeding al-Khawaja, saying in a statement that the prisoner gave consent for doctors to insert a nasogastric tube for nutrition after his blood sugar dropped.

    He was arrested last April for his role in anti-government demonstrations in his country as the Arab Spring swept across the region.

    He and the 20 other opposition activists were found guilty in June 2011 of plotting to overthrow the strategically important country's Sunni royal family. Eight were given life sentences

    Human Rights Watch on Sunday accused police in Bahrain of regularly resorting to beating anti-government protesters, despite officials' pledges to stop such practices.

    Interviews revealed at least five instances in the past month in which police severely beat detainees -- some of whom were minors, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued after representatives from the group finished a five-day visit to the island nation.

    A Bahraini government spokesman denied that allegation and others made by the group.

    "The allegations are absurd, and unfortunately, we ask for human rights organizations not to rely on unreliable sources," said government spokesman Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.

    Demonstrations in Bahrain failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings after a crackdown by authorities in the island state, backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    In November of last year, Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report critical of authorities' reactions to the protests, which began in February 2011, spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

    The small island kingdom plays a key strategic role in the Middle East, and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.