Bahraini cleric censures life sentences
Bahrain's Sheikh Issa Qasim
Senior Bahraini cleric Sheikh Issa Qasim has criticized the Persian Gulf kingdom's government over the life sentences issued to eight opposition activists for participating in anti-regime protests.
“We are all feeling pain, suffering and a sense of depression from the sentencing,” the cleric said in a sermon on Friday.
On Wednesday, a court sentenced eight opposition activists to life in prison for "plotting to overthrow the ruling system." Thirteen other activists were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on similar charges.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the rulings bear the marks of "political persecution."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called on the Bahraini government to allow opposition activists to appeal against their harsh sentences.
The largest party and opposition bloc in Bahrain, the Islamic National Accord Association (Al-Wefaq), condemned the sentences.
The bloc said it has "received these sentences with shock, especially as they contradict the call for national dialogue" proposed by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
“This dialogue says for itself it is a failure… It is difficult to reconcile what is happening on the ground with the call to dialogue,” the cleric was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Anti-regime protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty's rule over the Persian Gulf kingdom.
In March, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates deployed military forces to Bahrain to help the government crush the nationwide protests.