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Bahrain jails Shi'a party members

A protester standing on a garbage container shouts anti-government slogans as they try to get back to Manama's Farook Junction, also known as Pearl Square, in Karanna, west of Manama.

A protester standing on a garbage container shouts anti-government slogans as they try to get back to Manama's Farook Junction, also known as Pearl Square, in Karanna, west of Manama.

Published Oct 4, 2011


Dubai - Bahrain on Tuesday sentenced 14 members of a Shi'a opposition party, including its chairman, to up to 10 years in jail for calling for forcible regime change during Shi'a-led pro-democracy protests this year, state news agency BNA said.

In two separate cases, nine Shi'as were sentenced to 15 years in prison and four to 10 years for kidnapping two policemen, BNA said.

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The verdicts handed out by a military court are the latest in a series of lengthy sentences imposed since June on opposition figures and protesters involved in an uprising in February and March for reforms in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.

Bahrain quashed the protests in March, helped by troops from its Sunni neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

At least 30 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 1 000 detained - mostly Shi'as - during the uprising and a crackdown that has drawn fire from human rights groups.

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Six members of Bahrain's Islamic Action Society (Amal), six members received 10-year jail terms and eight were given five-year terms after being convicted of organising illegal protests, broadcasting false news and rumours, and transmitting pictures abroad which harmed Bahrain's reputation, BNA said.

Nine members of the Shi'a group were acquitted.

Amal chairman Sheikh Mohammed al-Mahfoodh, who was arrested with other party members in May, was tortured and held in solitary confinement for 45 days, his daughter said.

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“He was tortured with electric shocks and whips,” Hajar al-Mahfoodh told Reuters by phone. “There was no tangible evidence to condemn my father or the others.”

She said the men's access to lawyers was restricted to just five minutes at each of the six court sessions.

In April, the government said it would dissolve Amal and the main Shi'a opposition group Wefaq, but held off after public criticism from the United States.

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“The courts have looked at many cases of trying to 'overthrow the regime' since King Hamad came to power. This shows the situation in Bahrain is not stable and political reform is essential for stability,” Mattar Mattar, a member of Wefaq, told Reuters.

“The cases always lack evidence of physical weapons used on the ground. Is it enough to overthrow the regime just through statements?” he said.

In a separate statement, Bahrain's Interior Ministry said it would block a planned “human chain” protest by Wefaq around its headquarters in the capital Manama later on Tuesday.

“This most recent attempt to disrupt life in Bahrain and further inconvenience its citizens follows recent weekend rioting in a popular mall and calls for a traffic blockade aimed at preventing people from reaching their places of employment,” the government's Information Affairs Authority said.

Wefaq said the protest was intended to take place on the service road in front of its headquarters, not on the highway.

Bahrain faces almost daily protests by Shi'as, angry over a crackdown in which thousands lost their jobs and over government reform plans that fall short of giving the Gulf state's elected parliament full legislative powers.

Bahrain handed out life sentences on Monday for 14 Shi'as for killing a Pakistani national in October and sentenced 22 for terms of up to 18 years for attempted murder, “spreading terror”, and inciting hatred of the regime.

Last week a military court sentenced doctors to jail for between 5 and 15 years for occupying a medical complex, using ambulances to transport protesters, storing weapons and other offences which the defendants denied. - Reuters

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