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Bahrain Gives Life Sentences to 53 Individuals On Terror Charges

Qatar -- An aerial view of Doha's diplomatic area, March 21, 2013
Qatar -- An aerial view of Doha's diplomatic area, March 21, 2013
DUBAI, May 15 (Reuters)

A court in Bahrain revoked the citizenship of 115 people and gave 53 of them life sentences on terrorism charges, the public prosecutor said on Tuesday, in one of the most severe rulings yet in the Gulf island kingdom.

Authorities in Western-backed Bahrain have accused scores of people of militancy in a series of mass trials, saying the defendants are backed by Iran. Rights activists say they have included mostly peaceful opposition members.

This case pertains to Sunni Muslim-ruled Bahrain's allegation in 2015 that Iranian Revolutionary Guards helped Shi'ite Bahraini fugitives join forces to set up a militant group called the Zulfiqar Brigades to destabilise the country.

Prosecutors accused 138 people of "being behind a number of explosions, possession of explosives and training in the use of weapons and explosives and the attempted murder of police officers", the prosecutor said in a statement.

Fifty-three defendants were sentenced to life terms, 62 to between three and 15 years in prison, while 23 were acquitted.

Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been waging a crackdown on Shi’ite opposition groups and rights activists since they led pro-democracy Arab Spring protests in 2011, a campaign that has been condemned internationally.

Bahraini activists say members of the Shi’ite majority are subjected to systematic political and economic discrimination by the government, a charge the authorities deny.

Since 2011, demonstrators have clashed frequently with security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks.

Bahrain has accused the opposition of undermining security and blamed the bombings on Iran and Lebanon’s armed Shi’ite group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah deny any involvement in Bahrain’s unrest.

(Reporting By Noah Browning Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Catherine Evans)