Bahrain court upholds sentences of opposition leaders

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The Independent Online

An appeals court has upheld prison sentences against 20 opposition figures convicted of plotting to overthrow the state, including eight activists who were jailed for life.

The group represents some of the most high-profile leaders of Bahrain's Shia-led protest movement calling for a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom. Among the eight sentenced to life is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year in protest. The other 12 have sentences ranging from five to 15 years, with seven of them convicted in absentia.

The decision is likely to escalate street clashes that have occurred almost constantly since the uprising began 19 months ago, inspired by the Arab Spring. More than 50 people have been killed in Bahrain's unrest.

"We totally reject today's verdict, which is clearly not a step toward beginning to solve the issues in Bahrain," said Abdul Jalil Khalil, a former MP and a member of the main Shia political bloc Al Wefaq.

Shias represent about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 500,000 citizens, but they complain that they face systematic discrimination.