Bahrain jails 50 for ties to anti-government group - activists


DUBAI, Sept 29 (Reuters) - A Bahraini court sentenced 50people on Sunday to between five and 15 years in jail forsetting up a group that organises anti-government protests, andthat authorities say is working to topple the government byforce, activists said.

Bahrain has seen almost daily protests by members of theShi'ite majority since February 2011, when it crushed aShi'ite-led uprising demanding that the Sunni al-Khalifa dynastygive up power.

Bahrain's Shi'ites have long complained of entrencheddiscrimination in areas such as employment and public services,allegations that the Sunni-led government denies.

The activists said the government had accused thoseconvicted on Sunday of membership of the February 14 movement,which has been organising protests against the government since2011.

Bahrain's head of public prosecution had described the groupas a terrorist organisation.

Asked for comment, an official said a government statementon the matter was being prepared.

Yousif al-Muhafda from the Bahrain Center for Human Rightssaid that "a group of February 14 activists were sentenced tobetween five and 15 years in jail".

The centre said there were human rights campaigners amongthose convicted "under the internationally criticised and vagueterrorism law", and that the sentences added up to more than 400years in jail.

"This was a sham trial with a political verdict, they shouldbe released immediately," the group's acting president, MaryamAl-Khawaja, said in a statement.

Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society forHuman Rights, which describes itself as a local rights group,said a member of the society's board had been given a 15-yearsentence.

Some of the suspects were convicted in absentia.

The persistent unrest has placed Bahrain on the front lineof a struggle for regional influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia,Bahrain's close ally, and Shi'ite Iran, which denies Bahrainiaccusations of fomenting Shi'ite protests.

The Gulf kingdom is a U.S. ally in a volatile region and haslong provided a base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet; but at thesame time it faces criticism over its record on human rightsthat the United States champions.

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