A Bahrain court on Tuesday upheld jail terms against 20 opposition figures, including eight prominent activists facing life in prison, over charges of plotting to overthrow the Gulf monarchy, according to defense the government's Information Affairs Authority and lawyers who spoke to AFP.
The verdicts, originally issued by a military court, include eight life sentences. Defense lawyers have said the civilian court's decision may still be appealed.
Tuesday’s decision is likely to bring strong objections from international rights groups. Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has suffered political unrest since a protest movement dominated by majority Shiite Muslims erupted in February 2011, during a wave of revolts against authoritarian governments across the Arab world.
The United States has said it was “deeply troubled” by the court’s ruling.
The U.S. urged Bahrain “to abide by its commitment to respect detainees’ right to due process and to transparent judicial proceedings, including fair trials and access to attorneys,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Those who received life sentences in a military court last year include rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa, who had called for the Gulf Arab monarchy to be turned into a republic.
Sunni Muslim opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif is serving a five-year sentence. Seven of the 20 men were tried in absentia, including blogger Ali Abdulemam, who was given a 15-year sentence and is in hiding.
“The verdict does not come as a shock. With no international consequences and accountability for the Bahrain regime, they have no incentive to change,” Khawaja's daughter Maryam, a dissident activist abroad, said on Twitter, according to Reuters.
Sunnis who fear the rise of Shiite Islamists if the government compromises with opposition demands for political reform praised the ruling. “God is great! God is great!” wrote cleric Mohammed Khalid on Twitter, according to the agency.