Bahrain Shia activists given life

Anti-government Bahrain women take part in a rally organised by al-Wefaq opposition group to protest for reforms in the village of Sitra, east of Manama last week. Photo: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Bahrain sentenced 10 prominent Shia activists and opposition leaders to life in prison on today on charges of plotting a coup during protests that rocked the Sunni-ruled Gulf island kingdom earlier this year.
The sentencing could inflame already simmering tensions in the tiny Gulf Arab state, where small protests have erupted daily since emergency law was lifted on June 1st and may threaten a national dialogue planned to start next month.

Among those who received life sentences were Shia dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of hardline opposition group Haq. His group joined two others in calling for the overthrow of Bahrain’s monarchy during mass protests in February and March.

Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni leader of the secular leftist Waad party, was sentenced to five years in prison. Waad and Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition group Wefaq had called for a reform of the kingdom’s monarchy.
The defendants were defiant after the verdict, vowing to continue “peaceful” opposition to the royal family.

Witnesses said the defendants pumped their fists in the air and shouted “peacefully” as guards dragged them away from the courtroom. Relatives shouted “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is greatest”.

Bahrain’s state news agency previously said the 21 defendants were accused of involvement in “an attempt to overthrow the government by force in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country”.

Bahrain’s Sunni rulers in March crushed weeks of protests led mostly by the Shia majority, backed by troops from neighbouring Sunni Gulf countries. The government says the protests had a sectarian agenda backed by Shia power Iran.

The opposition argues the charges aim to distract Bahrain’s ally the United States, which has its Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the country, from activists’ calls for democratic reform.