Dozens of Shiites jailed for protest-related violence
A court in Bahrain sentenced 36 Shiites to prison terms of up to 25 years on Monday in connection with incidents linked to anti-regime protests. Critics say the accused confessed under torture and that prosecution evidence was weak.
AFP - A Bahraini special court on Monday jailed 36 Shiites for up to 25 years each in three separate cases linked to pro-reform protests in the Gulf kingdom, a military prosecutor said.
The rulings came only hours after a civil court date was set for a group of medics who were handed lengthy jail terms last week for their roles in the month-long protests, leading to international condemnation of Bahrain.
In Monday's decision, 14 Shiites were sentenced to life, or 25 years in prison, after being convicted of beating to death a Pakistani with a "terrorist" intent and gathering for riots, the prosecutor Yusof Fleifel said.
Fifteen were sentenced to 15 years in jail for attempting to murder military personnel and taking part in protests and vandalism at Manama's Bahrain University, Fleifel said, quoted by BNA state news agency.
The third case involved seven students, six of them jailed 15 years, while another was sentenced to 18 years, over charges including the attempted murder of several people at the university.
The students had been charged with "holding people hostage in building S20 and setting it on fire with the aim of killing those in the upper floor" in addition to damaging the building and stealing computers, BNA said.
The students were collectively fined 349,300 Bahraini dinars ($926,377), it added.
Matar Matar, a former opposition MP, said those convicted of killing of the Pakistani had confessed under torture and that the evidence against them was weak.
"Their lawyers had asked for a medical committee to check them for marks of torture, but their request was turned down," Matar told AFP, adding the defendants had said they only took part in a public gathering.
"The only evidence used against them is through witnesses. There are no fingerprints or any other proof... Their confessions were taken under duress," he added.
The three groups were sentenced by the National Safety Court, a special security court set up following a mid-March clampdown on the Shiite-led protests.
King Hamad had declared a State of National Safety, a quasi-emergency law, a day before forces drove protesters out of Manama's Pearl Square, the focal point of demonstrations, and cracked down on Shiite activists across the country.
The defendants were able to appeal their sentences before civil courts, BNA said, citing Fleifel.
The National Safety Court has a mixed military and civil panel. But last month the king promised that all Bahrainis in trials related to the protests would see their verdicts issued by a civil court.
Scores of opposition activists and protesters, predominantly Shiites, have been handed sentences criticised as harsh in the West, including several death sentences.
Meanwhile, the group of Shiite medics who were handed lengthy jail terms by the same court last week will get to appeal their sentence in a civil court later this month, the prosecutor general said.
"A session has been set for October 23 to look into the appeals," chief prosecutor Abdulrahman al-Sayyed said in a statement carried overnight by BNA.
Twenty medics had on Thursday been sentenced to jail terms of between five to 15 years.
The medical staff all worked at Manama's Salmaniya Hospital, which was stormed by security forces in mid-March as they drove protesters out of Pearl Square, the focal point of demonstrations.
Meanwhile, human rights activists said Monday that a group of 14 prominent Bahraini activists and opposition figures who launched a hunger strike on September 24 were being denied medical care while in prison.
Mohammad al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said the health of at least two of the jailed activists on hunger strike had deteriorated.
"Abduljalil al-Singace and Abdulwahab Hussein Ali both have pre-existing medical conditions, including diabetes, and their health has deteriorated significantly," Maskati told AFP.
Authorities in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty have said that 24 people were killed when the Shiite-led protests were put down, including four policemen. The opposition puts the death toll at 30.