World News

Bahrain commutes death sentences handed down by military court

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s king has commuted death sentences handed down to four men by a military court to life in prison, state news agency BNA reported on Thursday.

The death sentences were the first to be issued by a military court in the Gulf Arab state against civilians, according to activists.

In December, a military court sentenced six men to death and revoked their citizenship after they were convicted on charges of forming a terrorist cell and plotting to assassinate a military official.

BNA said King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa reduced the sentences confirmed by a military appeals court the previous day.

It was not immediately clear whether the death sentence was commuted for the remaining two men, who were list as having fled to Iran and were tried in absentia.

The military court had in December sentenced seven other people linked to the case to seven years in jail and revoked their citizenship, while five others were acquitted.

The island state had seen sporadic unrest since 2011 when authorities crushed protests mainly by the Shi’ite Muslim majority demanding a bigger role in running the country, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family.

Last year, Bahrain executed three Shi’ite Muslim men convicted of killing three policemen, including an officer from the United Arab Emirates, in a 2014 bomb attack. They were the first such executions in over two decades and sparked protests.

Bahrain accuses mainly Shi’ite Iran of arming and funding deadly attacks against its security forces in the kingdom, a strategic island where the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, charges Tehran denies.

Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean