Bahrain upholds sentences of uprising leaders

Mon Jan 7, 2013 4:56pm EST
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By Rania El Gamal

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's highest court upheld on Monday the prison sentences of 13 leaders of a 2011 uprising, a defense lawyer said, in a ruling that could stir further unrest in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state.

The case has drawn international criticism from rights groups and come under scrutiny from U.S. officials keen for acquittals to help restore calm in a country that it counts as a regional partner against Iran.

Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been in political turmoil since a protest movement led by majority Shi'ite Muslims erupted in February 2011 during a tide of revolts against governments across the Arab world. Bahrain accuses Shi'ite power Iran of encouraging the unrest.

The sentences handed down by a military court in June 2011 and upheld by a civilian court in September last year range from five years in prison to life.

"This verdict is final. No more appeals are possible. It is the last stage of litigation," lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told Reuters by telephone from Manama.

Twenty uprising leaders had been sentenced but only 13 filed appeals. The remaining seven men were tried in absentia because they were out of the country or in hiding, Jishi said.

The main charges the convicted men faced were "forming a terrorist group with intent to overthrow the system of government", as well as collaboration with a foreign state.

The men denied all the charges, saying they wanted only democratic reform.   Continued...