x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bahrain sentences 50 Shiites belonging to February 14 for ‘terrorism’

Rights group says say sentences ranging from 15 to 5 years handed down for links with the online February 14 opposition movement.

A Bahraini court on Sunday sentenced 50 Shiites to between five and 15 years for ties to an opposition movement that authorities accuse of terrorism.

Sixteen defendants received 15-year terms, while four were handed 10 years and another 30 sentenced to 5 years, according the Bahrain Youth Centre for Human Rights, one of whose board members, Naji Fateel, was jailed for 15 years.

Twenty of the defendants, including 14 of the 16 handed terms of 15 years, were not in court as they were sentenced for their links with the Youth Coalition of the Revolution of February 14.

They include several London-based dissidents as well as the Iraqi cleric Hadi Al Modaressi, who in the 1980s was at the centre of an alleged coup plot against the Bahraini ruling family. Authorities said in June that Al Modaressi was the spiritual leader of the group, known simply as February 14, and had “provided divisive sectarian support”.

February 14 has organised a number of protests since 2011, when the latest bout of unrest on the island began.

The mostly Shiite group argues that its supporters are economically and politically sidelined. It frequently urges supporters to demonstrate, block roads and burn tyres. Authorities also blame the organisation for a string of recent bomb attacks.

Bahrain’s interior ministry announced the arrests and charges on June 12, naming 11 Bahrain-based defendants and 13 people in exile at the time. The defendants ranged in age from 18 to 43 years. The ministry statement also said others were wanted and under investigation in connection with the case.

They are accused of forming an illegal group opposing the political system and “training elements to commit violence and vandalism” in addition to “attacking security men”, according to the charge sheet.

“Terrorism was among the means used” by the group, which also had “contact with a foreign state”, it said, referring to Iran.

Bahrain said in June that investigations had revealed “the active role in incitement and terror acts and the support that is provided by extremist religious and political leaders from outside and inside Bahrain”.

Human-rights groups expressed concern at the verdicts, arguing that at least two of the defendants claimed to have been mistreated in custody. Mr Fateel and the only female defendant, Rihanna Al Mousawi, twice complained of torture to the public prosecutor’s special investigations unit, said Mohammed Al Maskati, head of Bahrain Youth Centre for Human Rights.

“Nothing happened to resolve this complaint,” he said, adding that he believed the charges were politically motivated. “It is very clear that these people get targeted because they work as human-rights activists.”

Al Wefaq, the largest legal opposition society, said the defendants had boycotted today’s sentencing in protest against what they felt was an unfair trial.

After the verdict was announced, February 14 on Facebook called for protesters to rally in Manama, where demonstrations have been banned since the summer.

Yesterday’s ruling can be appealed.

edickinson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse