A Bahraini court on Sunday sentenced 50 protest activists, many of whom were denied access to a lawyer and gave confessions under torture, to lengthy jail terms on terrorism-related charges, a rights group said.
Separately, two police officers who were jailed for torturing a protester to death in his prison cell in 2011 had their sentences reduced from 10 years to two.
“This is the result when you have a court with a judge appointed by the king of Bahrain,” Yousif al-Muhafda, deputy-head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), told Al-Akhbar. “The court is just a tool to suppress the opposition and human rights defenders, and to acquit those who torture and kill protesters.”
The cases are related to the popular anti-government uprising that swept the tiny Gulf archipelago two and a half years ago. Bahrain’s western-backed monarchy has continued to crackdown on dissidents since the unrest that has left about 90 people dead erupted in February 2011.
Sixteen defendants were handed 15-year terms, while four were jailed for 10 years and the other 30 for five, a judicial source told AFP.
The defendants were charged with forming the secular February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, which Bahraini authorities have branded a terrorist group.
A charge sheet revealed that the activists are also accused of “training elements to commit violence and vandalism,” in addition to “attacking security men.”
Among those to receive a 15-year sentence was Naji Fateel, a well-known blogger and protest organizer who had been jailed and tortured twice before his latest arrest in May.
The judge in Fateel’s most recent court case had prevented him from providing testimony to describe how he was tortured in prison, Muhafda said.
Activist Rihanna al-Moussawi, arrested for taking part in an anti-government rally during the Formula One race in April, was sentenced to five years in jail. She was among several defendants who were denied a lawyer.
During her trial, Moussawi told the court that she was stripped bare and forced to stand naked at the police station following her arrest. Later, authorities sexually abused her at Bahrain’s Criminal Investigation Department, she added.
“All of those who were jailed today are activists and protest leaders in their villages,” Muhafda said. “The authorities just want to send a message to the opposition to stop, and to accept the [political] situation as it is.”
Several defendants were tried in absentia, including Saeed al-Shahabi, a key London-based opposition figure who faces an earlier life sentence for his role in the 2011 uprising.
Meanwhile the court reduced the prison sentences of two police officers who were jailed for torturing to death 31-year-old Ali Saqer. Saqer was jailed on 3 April 2011, and announced dead six days later.
Earlier this month, Bahraini authorities arrested former MP Khalil Marzouq, a leading figure in opposition Wefaq Party, on charges including having links to the February 14 group.
Marzouq was deputy speaker of Bahrain’s 40-member parliament before its 18 Wefaq members walked out in February 2011 in protest at violence against demonstrators.