DUBAI, Sept 29 A Bahraini court sentenced 50
people on Sunday to between five and 15 years in jail for
setting up a group that organises anti-government protests, and
that authorities say is working to topple the government by
force, activists said.
Bahrain has seen almost daily protests by members of the
Shi'ite majority since February 2011, when it crushed a
Shi'ite-led uprising demanding that the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty
give up power.
Bahrain's Shi'ites have long complained of entrenched
discrimination in areas such as employment and public services,
allegations that the Sunni-led government denies.
The activists said the government had accused those
convicted on Sunday of membership of the February 14 movement,
which has been organising protests against the government since
Bahrain's head of public prosecution had described the group
as a terrorist organisation.
Asked for comment, an official said a government statement
on the matter was being prepared.
Yousif al-Muhafda from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights
said that "a group of February 14 activists were sentenced to
between five and 15 years in jail".
The centre said there were human rights campaigners among
those convicted "under the internationally criticised and vague
terrorism law", and that the sentences added up to more than 400
years in jail.
"This was a sham trial with a political verdict, they should
be released immediately," the group's acting president, Maryam
Al-Khawaja, said in a statement.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for
Human Rights, which describes itself as a local rights group,
said a member of the society's board had been given a 15-year
Some of the suspects were convicted in absentia.
The persistent unrest has placed Bahrain on the front line
of a struggle for regional influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia,
Bahrain's close ally, and Shi'ite Iran, which denies Bahraini
accusations of fomenting Shi'ite protests.
The Gulf kingdom is a U.S. ally in a volatile region and has
long provided a base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet; but at the
same time it faces criticism over its record on human rights
that the United States champions.