Rights watchdog Amnesty International on Monday slammed as appalling a Bahrain court decision to jail 50 Shiite activists, and demanded a probe into allegations that some were tortured.
A Bahraini court handed jail terms of up to 15 years Sunday to the 50 activists, including a prominent Shiite Iraqi cleric, convicted of forming a clandestine opposition group.
"It’s appalling what passes for ‘justice’ today in Bahrain," said Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.
"The authorities simply slap the label ‘terrorist’ on defendants, and then subject them to all manner of violations to end up with a ‘confession’," he said.
The 50 defendants were charged with forming the "February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition" which authorities in the Sunni-ruled kingdom accuse of terrorism.
Sixteen defendants were handed 15-year terms, while four were jailed for 10 years and the other 30 for five.
The defendants are accused of forming an illegal group opposing the political system and "training elements to commit violence and vandalism," in addition to "attacking security men," according to the charge sheet.
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"Terrorism was among the means used," by the group, which also had "contact with a foreign state," it said, apparently referring to Iran, which Manama accuses of meddling in the internal affairs of the Shiite-majority kingdom.
Among the defendants tried in absentia is prominent Iraqi cleric Hadi al-Mudaressi, and Saeed al-Shahabi, a key London-based opposition figure who faces an earlier life sentence for his role in the 2011 uprising.
Amnesty International said there were claims that some of the defendants had been tortured and demanded an investigation.
"The allegations that confessions were extracted under torture must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and independently, with those responsible brought to justice," said Luther.
The February 14 Coalition has been the main driving force behind a Shiite-led uprising that began in February 2011 to demand more rights for the majority community.
Security forces clamped down on the month-long protests in mid-March 2011, backed by Saudi-led Gulf troops, but Shiites were soon back on the streets, mainly in their villages.
At least 89 people have been killed since the protests erupted in February 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.