2:08pm

Wed June 22, 2011
The Two-Way

Bahrain Sentences 8 Activists To Life In Prison

A military court in Bahrain handed down life in prison sentences for eight activists. Bahrain's state news agency said the Lower National Safety court said the activists were charged with "plotting to topple the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and exchanging intelligence information with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country."

Bahrain's government has been reasserting itself since the island nation in the Gulf was rocked by protests in February and March. As we've reported, in April the same court sentenced four protesters to death and next week, the government is expected to put 47 nurses and doctors on trial for treating protesters, said human rights groups.

The court handed down its verdict just ahead of what is supposed to be the start of a "national dialogue" on July 1. Bahrain's king, reports the Financial Times, called for a dialogue between politicians and civil society.

The AP reports, however, that the sentencing just angered the country's Shiite majority. All but one of the activists sentenced were Shiite Muslims. The AFP reports that Khalil Marzooq, a member of Bahrain's largest Shia formation, the Islamic National Accord Association, slammed the court's decision.

"'When the one calling for change and reform is sentenced to life in prison, how will others take part' in dialogue," the AFP quotes Marzooq as saying. The AFP reports the sentencing caused protests in "Shia-populated villages including Daraz, Bani Jamrah, Sitra, Nuwaidrat, Aaali, Sanabis and Karzakan."

And here's the AP on the scene in the streets of the capital of Manama:

Angry crowds took their grievances back to the streets after the verdict despite the strengthened police presence around the Gulf island.

...

After the court ruling, Shiite crowds blocked roads with sand piles and called for the protest marches, which also took place in Shiite villages on the capital's outskirts. It was the first serious unrest after months of a security lockdown by military and police units in Bahrain, a key American military ally that is home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.