MANAMA // Bahrain's special court yesterday upheld life jail sentences served on seven Shiite opposition leaders convicted of plotting to overthrow the regime.
Seven other activists also had their sentences - which ranged between two and 15 years - upheld.
Seven others, one sentenced to life in jail and the remainder to 15 years, remained at large and had not appealed against their sentences.
The appealed verdicts will go to a civil court of cassation for a final decision.
The decision suggested Bahrain's authorities were unwilling to roll back punishments for those considered central to the anti-government uprising, although officials have taken other steps seeking to ease tensions. They included releasing some detainees and reinstating state workers purged for suspected support of the seven-month-old protest movement. The eight activists sentenced to life include Hassan Mashaima, head of the Shiite opposition Haq movement, Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement, and the Shiite human-rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen.
Activist and Haq member Abduljalil Al Singace, who was released in February after six months in jail, was also sentenced to life.
The other four are Mohammed Habib Al Muqdad, who holds a Swedish passport; his cousin Abduljalil Al Muqdad and Saeed Mirza, both of whom Wafa members, and Said Abdulnabi Shihab, who was sentenced in absentia.
Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni leader of the Waed secular group, who played a prominent role in month-long protests for democratic reform that were crushed in March, received a five-year sentence.
Nine of the defendants had been in custody on similar charges in the past before being set free under a royal pardon in February aimed at calming the protests.
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights condemned the court's ruling.
"We deeply regret the judgements," Khadija Sharif, the organisation's assistant secretary general, said after the rulings were handed down.
Mr Sharif said the convictions were "arbitrary" and "inequitable" and called on the Bahraini courts to release the prisoners.
Scores more activists were facing trial on charges linked to the protests in a semi-martial court set up under a "state of national safety" decreed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa a day before protesters were evicted from a Manama square in mid-March.
Authorities, backed by troops that rolled into Bahrain from other Gulf nations to help contain the anti-government protests, arrested hundreds of activists, as well as doctors, medics and teachers accused of backing protesters.
Bahrain's interior ministry said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the unrest. The opposition puts the death toll at 30.
Yesterday, Iranian lawmakers criticised Saudi Arabia's "role" in suppressing the protests in Bahrain and Yemen, and called on the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate human-rights situation in both countries.
The statement, posted on the Iranian parliament's website, was signed by 210 MPs of the 290-seat parliament.
Tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia rose sharply in March when Saudi troops intervened to help Bahrain's Sunni ruling family suppress the month-long protest.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting from Associated Press