CAIRO — Bahrain sentenced eight activists to life in
prison Wednesday in the latest crackdown on a 5-month-old rebellion by
the island monarchy, which has been criticized by international
human-rights groups for mass arrests, torture and shooting protesters.
The verdicts follow the lifting of martial law but
indicate the ruling Sunni-Muslim family will not tolerate unrest among a
majority Shiite population demanding an end to discrimination. Several
of the activists, such as Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, are respected dissidents,
and their sentences are likely to spur fresh protests.
The sentences came a week before Bahraini government
officials were expected to meet with Shiite leaders at the urging of the
U.S. to end abuses against protesters who were inspired by revolutions
in Tunisia and Egypt. The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, and
activists have criticized Washington for not pressuring King Hamed ibn
Isa Khalifa to stem the repression, which has resulted in the deaths of
at least 32 people and led to hundreds of arrests since February.
Those sentenced to life in prison by a military court
also included activist Abdul Jalil Singace and Hassan Mushaima, a
prominent Shiite political leader who, like many Bahrainis, returned
home from self-exile after assurances by the royal family that activists
would not be persecuted. They were charged with plotting to overthrow
Thirteen other dissidents were sentenced to jail terms of from two to 15 years.
“When the sentence was read out, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja
spoke loudly and said the people will continue in their struggle for
their rights,” read a statement posted by the Bahrain Center for Human
Rights. “He was beaten and removed from court, his family fears for his
health as he was already suffering from the fractures in his face.”
His daughter Zainab, who was present in court, stood
up and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and she was “violently
removed” from court. The rights group reported later that Zainab was
charged with contempt of court and released.
The king told supporters on Wednesday: “Crises doesn’t scare us.”
Bahrain has accused protesters of being agents of
foreign powers, especially Iran. The royal family quickly turned the
demonstrations into a proxy struggle in the Persian Gulf between Bahrain
and its ally Saudi Arabia against Shiite-led Iran. Saudi Arabia, which
also fears pro-democracy movements are upsetting the region’s balance of
power, sent troops into Bahrain to help quell the revolt.
President Obama met this month with Bahrain’s Crown
Prince Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa, who is more moderate than the king, to
press for a national dialogue. But Wednesday’s prison sentences and
upcoming trials against doctors and nurses who aided wounded protesters
are not likely to calm passions.
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