News   /   Persian Gulf

Bahraini court jails nearly 170 people in crackdown on dissent

This file picture shows the entrance to the building of Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs in the capital Manama.

A court in Bahrain has handed down prison sentences to 167 anti-regime protesters as the ruling Al Khalifah regime does not shy away from its heavy clampdown on political dissidents and pro-democracy activists in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

The High Criminal Court sentenced 56 of the defendants to ten years in jail each after finding them guilty of “attacks on police officers.” The remaining majority of defendants received one-year terms. The court acquitted four people in the case.

Court documents obtained by Reuters showed that the sentences had been handed to the defendants at a trial on February 27.

The defendants had been detained for six months before being released on bail in late 2017.

“None of the defendants came to the court when the sentences were announced because they feared being arrested,” said one lawyer, who declined to be named.

Two lawyers involved in the case said they had filed an appeal.

The defendants had been arrested at a 2017 sit-in in support of distinguished Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who had been stripped of his citizenship by the Manama regime, outside his home in the northwestern village of Diraz, situated some 12 kilometers west of the capital.

Bahraini regime forces killed five protesters and arrested hundreds more in a raid on the sit-in.

London-based rights group Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said the majority of those arrested have been subjected to “the most atrocious torture.”

“This is a massively unfair trial which has passed completely unnoticed ... this trial is a textbook example of the culture of impunity that prevails in Bahrain,” Director of Advocacy at BIRD, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said.

The US State Department, in its latest annual human rights report published on Wednesday, said that authorities were still investigating the “circumstances surrounding the death of five protesters during a May 2017 security operation to clear protesters outside the house of Shia cleric Isa Qassim.”

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.

They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.

Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3, 2017.

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