Family of the 13 activists wait for the verdict in Bahrain appeals court (Twitter)

A Bahrain appeals court has upheld jail sentences against 13 of the country's most prominent political and human rights activists, including Abudlhadi Al Khawaja, founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

The verdicts, which were expected three weeks ago but were adjourned due to disturbance in the courtroom, include eight sentences of life imprisonment.

The 13 leaders are charged with plotting to overthrow the Al Khalifa regime, and have been described by the Bahraini authorities and local press as "terrorists" for their role in pro-democracy protests which started in February 2011.

In contrast, the activists are viewed as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and other leading NGOs.

"The verdict today is not a reflection of the state of the judicial system in Bahrain: we already know that it is not independent or fair," Maryam Al Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Centre and daughter of Abudlhadi, told IBTimes UK.

"Rather, this is a reflection of the emboldening of the Bahrain regime due to international silence and lack of consequences towards human rights violations."

Abdul Jalil Khalil, member of the country's main opposition political party Al Wefaq, said they "totally reject" the verdict "which is clearly not a step toward beginning to solve the issues in Bahrain".

Danish disappointment

Earlier this year Al Khawaja, 51, went on a 110 day-long hunger strike in protest against his conviction. Denmark has asked for him to be released on the grounds that he has Danish citizenship, but the Supreme Judicial Council rejected the request.

Denmark's foreign minister Villy Soevndal called the decision to uphold the life sentences "very disappointing" and said he would discuss possible further international action from "the very broad range of countries that in the spring supported Denmark in the demand for the release of Al Khawaja and the other human rights and democracy fighters in Bahrain."

News of the appeals court's decision comes just weeks after Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab received a three-year sentence for three separate incidents of inciting protests against the Sunni Al-Khalifa monarchy.

Meanwhile, a recent report by monitoring and advocacy group Bahrain Watch has claimed the government, which is dominated by the Al Khalifa monarchy, has spent over $32 million (£20 million) on 18 different UK and US PR companies since the start of pro-democracy protests in February 2011, and the subsequent bloody crackdown by security forces which has killed at least 60 people.