MANAMA, Bahrain - Bahrain’s special security court yesterday upheld sentences for 21 activists convicted for their roles in Shi’ite-led protests for greater rights, including eight prominent political figures given life terms on charges of trying to overthrow the Gulf kingdom’s Sunni rulers.
The decision suggests Bahrain’s authorities are unwilling to roll back punishments for those considered central to the antigovernment uprising, although officials have taken other steps seeking to ease tensions. They include releasing some detainees and reinstating state workers purged for suspected support of the seven-month-old protest movement.
Bahrain’s security forces - backed by a Gulf military force led by Saudi Arabia - have crushed large-scale demonstrations by the country’s majority Shi’ites. But near-daily clashes have broken out across the island, which is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The initial verdicts in June against the 21-member group - 14 jailed in Bahrain and seven convicted in absentia - touched off intense street battles and brought swift condemnation from international rights groups.
Shi’ites represent about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population, but claim they face systematic discrimination and remain blocked from high-level military or political posts. Sunni rulers say they have offered dialogue on possible reforms but have been snubbed by groups favoring confrontation on the streets.
More than 30 people have died since the unrest began in February, inspired by other Arab revolts. Hundreds of others have been arrested or driven out of jobs or studies.