DUBAI: Bahrain’s criminal court yesterday sentenced two Shiites to death and 19 others to life imprisonment in a ruling against a cell convicted of terror attacks. The court sentenced a total of 58 people on terrorism charges and stripping citizenship from 47, state news agency BNA reported. The ruling is the latest in a series of scores of harsh penalties in the Western-allied Gulf kingdom for defendants accused of Iranian-backed militancy but who activists say are mostly peaceful opposition members.
The defendants were convicted of forming a “terror” cell that carried out a number of attacks, killing at least two policemen and wounding several others, and of smuggling weapons by boat.
It also convicted them of attacking a prison and helping some prisoners to flee, of travelling to Iraq and Iran for military training and engaging in a gunbattle with police. All the convicts are from the Shiite majority in the small Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom. Large quantities of weapons including grenades and light machine-guns were seized from the group, according to the ruling. Thirty-six members, including the two condemned to death, are already in jail while the rest were sentenced in absentia, including 12 defendants living in Iran and Iraq and one in Germany, a judicial source said.
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) immediately condemned the ruling. “Today’s ruling is the latest episode in Bahrain’s travesty of justice, and likely one of the most cruel,” said the director of BIRD, Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei. BIRD said two women were among those convicted while the fate of two other female defendants in the case was not immediately known. Twenty-one Bahrainis are now on death row in “political cases”, 14 of them convicted in 2017, it said. Authorities have cracked down hard on dissent since mass street protests in 2011 that demanded an elected prime minister and constitutional monarchy in Bahrain.
Shiite cleric in hospital
In another development, Bahrain’s Shiite spiritual leader Sheikh Isa Qassim was returned to hospital yesterday to undergo a new round of surgery, a rights activist said. “Sheikh Isa Qassim was admitted today to the Bahrain International Hospital to receive surgery for a hernia,” Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman from Bahrain Center for Human Rights said.
He said authorities had delayed for two weeks before allowing the cleric to visit the hospital. Qassim, in his late 70s, is suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Rights activists say he underwent a previous round of surgery in early December. The cleric was a leader of Arab Spring-inspired 2011 protests in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, and has been under de facto house arrest since a 2016 court order revoking his citizenship. He was sentenced to a suspended one-year jail term on the charge of “serving foreign interests”. Located between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is home to a Shiite majority that has long complained of political marginalization.- Agencies