BEIRUT

Middle East

Bahrain hands heavy jail terms to Shiite protesters

Bahraini women carry signs and march against the government during an opposition demonstration in Diraz, west of the capital of Manama, Bahrain, Friday, June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

DUBAI: A Bahraini court handed down jail sentences of up to 13 years Tuesday against 13 defendants convicted of attacking police during an anti-government demonstration in 2012, a judicial official said.

The trial was the latest in a string of prosecutions for protests among the Gulf state's Shiite Muslim majority that prompted Human Rights Watch to warn last month that the Sunni ruling family was using the courts as a tool to maintain a "highly repressive political order."

The defendants were detained after protesters clashed with riot police in the Shiite village of Sitra outside the capital Manama on August 6, 2012, the judicial official said.

The lead defendant was sentenced to 13 years, while his 12 co-accused were sentenced to 10 years.

They were found guilty of attempted murder of police officers, possession of Molotov cocktails and gathering on a public highway.

The 2012 demonstration was one of a spate of persistent protests in Shiite villages that have continued despite a bloody 2011 crackdown on an Arab Spring-inspired movement for majority rule and a constitutional monarchy in the small but strategic archipelago.

In a report released on May 29, Human Rights Watch charged that the heavy jail terms handed down against scores of Shiite protesters were part of "a highly functional injustice system" operated by the Bahraini authorities.

The New York-based watchdog accused Washington, whose Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, just across the Gulf from Iran, of not doing enough to raise human rights concerns with its ally.

 

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