139 jailed for forming Iran-linked 'Bahraini Hezbollah'
DUBAI - A court in Bahrain sentenced 139 people to jail on terrorism charges on Tuesday and revoked the citizenship of all but one of them, the public prosecutor said, in the latest mass trial in the Gulf Arab state.
Western-allied Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has prosecuted hundreds of protesters in mass trials and banned main opposition groups. Most of the leading opposition figures and rights activists are imprisoned or have fled abroad.
Such trials became commonplace after a failed uprising in 2011 that was led by members of the Shiite Muslim majority and crushed with the help of neighbour Saudi Arabia.
The High Criminal Court handed out life jail terms to 69 of the defendants who were sentenced to life in jail, 39 to 10 years, 23 to seven years and the rest to between three and five years imprisonment, public prosecutor Ahmad al-Hammadi said in a statement.
He added that they were sentenced for crimes including joining a "terrorist" group, bombings, attempted murder and receiving arms and explosives training.
Ninety-six of the defendants were also fined 100,000 Bahraini dinars ($265,000) each.
Hammadi said the defendants had formed an Iran-linked cell referred to as the "Bahraini Hezbollah" with the purpose of carrying out attacks in the country. The defendants have the right to appeal the ruling, he said.
Some members had received military training in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, Hammadi said.
Of those sentenced, 60 were in absentia, a defence lawyer said.
Since the uprising eight years ago, the Gulf island nation has seen periodic clashes between protesters and security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks.
The mass sentencing was "the largest single incident" since the Bahraini government began revoking nationalities of opponents in 2012, said the opposition Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
The Britain-based organisation criticized the trial as "deeply unfair" and said Bahrain was using revocations of citizenship as a "tool of oppression".
Tuesday's decision took the number of citizenship revocations in Bahrain to 990, 180 of them this year, the institute said in a statement.
"A mass trial cannot produce a just result and rendering people stateless in a mass trial is a clear violation of international law," institute Director of Advocacy Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said.
Authorities have jailed dozens of high-profile activists and disbanded both religious and secular opposition groups since the Shiite-led protests demanding political change erupted in 2011.
They have stripped hundreds of those convicted of their citizenship, leaving many stateless.
The government denies deliberately targeting the Shiite political opposition, saying it is only acting to preserve Bahrain's national security.