Military court sentences Bahraini protester over attempt to kill police

Verdict comes after death sentences handed down to four Shiite men accused of killing two policemen during the unrest.

MANAMA // A Bahraini military court sentenced one man to at least five years in jail and acquitted a second over an alleged attempt to kill policemen during the country's recent political unrest, state media said yesterday.

The same court last week gave death sentences to four Shiite men accused of killing two policemen during the unrest, a verdict criticised by rights groups and Western nations and which also appeared to deepen the rift between Bahrain's Shiite majority and its Sunni rulers.

The official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said the man who was found guilty was also convicted of destroying public property, and got two sentences of five and two years incarceration. It did not specify if those were to be consecutive or concurrent.

The agency said the sentence could be appealed against within 15 days. BNA previously said the men were being tried over an alleged attempt by protesters to run down policemen with cars.

The UN human rights chief yesterday condemned last week's death sentences.

"The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said.

"The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain's international human rights obligations," she added in a statement.

At least 13 protesters and four police died during the unrest that gripped Bahrain in February and March until the country declared martial law and invited in a GCC force of Saudi soldiers and UAE police.

The Shiite-led protests had called for a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination, with a few Shiite groups demanding the abolition of the monarchy altogether.

Bahrain's Shiites say they are denied access to state employment, land and housing, and point to the naturalisation of foreigners from largely Sunni countries, some of whom serve in the security forces, as proof of a policy of sectarian rule.

The government has since cracked down on Shiite villages and opposition activists, arresting hundreds, and fired hundreds of workers from state-owned companies. At least three people have died in custody.

The government says it targets only those who committed crimes during the unrest. It announced on Monday that it would prosecute dozens of health workers for crimes committed during the protests, including causing the death of wounded protesters by inflicting additional injuries on them.

Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq, said on Tuesday that two former members of parliament, Mattar Ibrahim Mattar and Jawad Fairooz, from its ranks had been detained.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday that it had received credible reports that a detained human rights activist, Abdulhadi al Khawaja, had been hospitalised following beatings while in custody.

The group called on the United States, whose Fifth Fleet Bahrain hosts, and Bahrain's other western allies "to declare publicly that these relationships are all suspended until the torture and horrific abuses by the Bahrain authorities come to an end."

Amnesty International also appealed on Wednesday to Bahrain's rulers to bring an end to the campaign of arrests against its opponents. "The Bahraini authorities must stop detaining anyone who opposes them and release protesters who have been locked up for peacefully demanding reform," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Even since the protests on the streets were violently crushed in mid-March the government's persecution of dissidents has not abated.

The unrest has taken its toll on Bahrain's appeal as a haven for offshore money. Assets held by Bahraini banks specialising in offshore assets fell by fell 10 per cent in March to their lowest level in six years, central bank data showed on Wednesday.

Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse