A Bahraini court has handed down heavy jail sentences to more than a dozen people in a mass trial as the regime in Manama continues its crackdown campaign against opposition and political dissent.
Aged between 28 and 59, the convicts were accused of forming the so-called al-Basta group and planning to carry out “a series of bombings” in the country, the Bahraini LuaLua TV reported.
Eight defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and nine given jail terms of between 10 and 15 years, all on charges of having “links” to Iran, plotting to overthrow the Bahraini regime and disturbing public order.
Fourteen of them were also stripped of their nationalities.
Among those served with life terms, two brothers, Mohammad and Ali Fakhrawi, were accused of being the leaders of the group.
Other defendants sentenced to life in prison included blogger Ali al-Meraj and the son of noted opposition figure, Hussein Abdul Wahab.
A journalist, Mahmoud al-Jazeeri, was also among those sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Shia cleric, Sheikh Issa al-Qafas, received a 10-year prison term.
Critics of the Bahraini regime say the defendants in the mass trial, all Shia Muslims, were victims of torture and denied the right to legal representation during the investigation period.
Manama has faced popular outrage over its discriminatory policies against the country’s Shia majority since 2011, when a popular uprising began there. The regime has come down hard on the peaceful protests, in a crackdown campaign which has led to dozens of deaths
Bahrain has on numerous occasions blamed Iran for what it calls inciting anti-regime sentiment on the island.
Tehran has reacted strongly to such accusations, saying Bahraini rulers are playing a “blame game” to justify their brutal clampdown on dissent and urging them to stop muffling the voice of protesters.
In an exceptionally controversial move in April, Bahrain’s Parliament authorized military courts to try civilians charged with “terrorism” — a vaguely defined legal term in the kingdom.
In a separate ruling on Monday, the Sixth High Criminal Appeals Court upheld three-year prison sentences issued against five defendants earlier in the year.
The sentences had been issued for charges of “planting a fake bomb in a private garage in the northern village of Buri on February 15, 2016.”
Three of the convicts are relatives of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a human rights defender and director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) NGO, who lives in exile in the UK.
London-based rights group Amnesty International described the verdict against Alwadaei’s mother-in-law, brother-in-law and cousin as “a chilling illustration of the extremes to which the authorities are prepared to go to crush dissent.”
It said the charges were “trumped-up” and leveled “after a grossly unfair trial.”
Amnesty also blasted Manama’s ally London for downplaying human rights violations at the hands of the Bahraini regime.
“This sentence should also be a wake-up call for the UK government…it can no longer stay silent over the abuses being committed in the country,” it said in a statement.