A military court in Bahrain sentenced four Shiite Muslim protesters to death for allegedly murdering two police officers during demonstrations in March. The National Safety Lower Court, reported the Bahrain News Agency in a press release, also sentenced three other men to life in prison for their role in the killings.
In that release, Bahrain insists that the suspects were treated fairly and allowed contact with family and lawyers. The Los Angeles Times reports the trial was precedent-setting as the suspects are the first civilians tried in military court and that the process was anything but fair:
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.
Reuters reports the verdicts mark only the third time in more than 30 years that Bahrain has handed down a death sentence. "One of the prior cases came in the mid-1990s," reported Reuters, "during the greatest unrest Bahrain had seen before this year."
The seven men who faced the trials were arrested during the protests that rocked the Gulf nation during February and March, when Bahrain's Shia majority clamored for more rights and freedoms from the Sunni monarchy. The Guardian reports:
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders and human rights activists have been detained since emergency rule was declared on 15 March. Earlier this month, the authorities banned media from covering legal proceedings in the country's military courts.
Among those detained are also dozens of Shia professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, including a lawyer who was due to defend some of the seven opposition supporters in the military court.
In the press release, the Bahraini government also posted a two-part Youtube video that states the government's case. The Guardian reports the government conducted the trials behind closed doors. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.