BAHRAIN: Military court sentences protesters to death
In a sharp escalation of the repression of a smoldering opposition movement, a military court in Bahrain sentenced four Shiite Muslim activists to death for the alleged murder of two police officers during pro-democracy demonstrations in March, Bahrain's official news agency reported.
This is a kind of precedent-setting case in Bahrain. The suspects are the first civilians to ever be tried in a Bahraini military court, which is called the Lower Security Court.
Three other men were sentenced to life in jail by a Sunni-dominated monarchy that has received support from Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Peninsula states to quell a Shiite-led mass anti-government uprising.
The trial itself bore the trademarks of the kind of shadowy security courts common in drab dictatorships such as Iran, Myanmar or Syria rather than a country that is chummy with Washington and hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.
During the court proceedings, the seven Shiite protestors were refused legal council and contact with relatives, activists and human rights advocates said.
The chain of momentous popular uprisings that have ravaged Arab autocracies, combined with an already dissatisfied public, culminated in a bold act of defiance against the Bahraini king at Pearl Square on Feb. 14.
The pro-democracy opposition movement, comprised of both secular activists as well as Shiites, demanding greater freedoms from the Sunni monarchy for decades, took the square over for days before Bahrain and Saudi troops crushed the uprising.
At least 30 people have died, four of them members of the security forces. Hundreds of other Shiite and secular opposition figures and professionals have been detained since martial law was declared March 15.
According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the monarchy has a history of unlawful practices against activists.
"The government has taken it too far," said Nabeel Rajab, the center's president, on the issue of the trial of civilians in a military court.
The crackdown prompted Amnesty International to issue a briefing paper April 21 describing the developments as a "worrying trend."
"The renewed crackdown and arrests of opposition activists has been accompanied by an alarming increase in reports of torture and other ill-treatment of people detained in connection with the protests," stated the report.
-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut
Photo: Demonstrators take part in a rally outside the Saudi Embassy on April 15 in Washington protesting the government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Barhrain. Credit: Alex Wong /Getty Images