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Bahrain convicts 51 people in mass trial amid crackdown

November 3, 2020 GMT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain announced Tuesday it convicted 51 people, more than half of them abroad, on charges of belonging to a militant group. It was the latest mass trial conducted in this island kingdom amid a yearslong crackdown on all dissent.

Bahrain described those convicted as belonging to an unnamed militant group that received orders from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. It alleged that the Guard supplied weapons and funding to aid the group in plans to potentially target “economic and vital installations, security patrol sites, the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and (the) Bahrain Defense Force.”

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However, Bahrain said some of those arrested had targeted a bank ATM and a transportation company, while others allegedly possessed gasoline bombs and other items. The arrests took place last year, the statement said.

Of those convicted, the kingdom described 27 as “fugitives abroad.” The suspects received sentences ranging from five years to life in prison, the statement said. One defendant was acquitted.

The statement named none of those convicted. The Associated Press could not immediately identify the lawyers who defended them in court. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said it spoke to a family member of one defendant who alleged “the trial was marred by due process violations and the use of evidence obtained under torture.”

“This mass trial demonstrates the systemic corruption of Bahrain’s judiciary, which routinely violates defendants’ most basic rights to a fair trial such as permitting evidence obtained through torture and denial of access to legal representation,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the institute.

Bahrain, a tiny Sunni-ruled island off the coast of Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has seen demonstrations, unrest and militant attacks on police since its 2011 Arab Spring protests. Those demonstrations saw the island’s Shiite majority and others demand more political freedom before Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, put down the protests.

Authorities have blamed the unrest on Iran, which has long denied any involvement.

Bahrain has targeted journalists, activists, Shiite religious leaders and political parties as part of its crackdown on dissent. Some activists have escaped into exile while others have been imprisoned. Bahrain has carried out a series of mass trials during this time.