MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A security court in Bahrain sentenced 14 people to life in prison Monday in the killing of a Pakistani man during unrest between backers of the country’s Sunni rulers and Shiite-led protesters seeking greater rights, a defense lawyer said.
The decision by the civilian-military court — set up during martial law-style rule — was among a series of widely criticized sentences handed out in recent weeks in the Gulf island kingdom, including long prison terms for 20 doctors and nurses convicted of aiding anti-government demonstrators.
Defense lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi said the 14 defendants were accused of roles in the slaying of a Pakistani man in March. Further details about the killing were not immediately disclosed, but many Sunni Muslims from south Asia and Arab nations strongly support Bahrain’s leaders, who have given them citizenship and jobs.
Some of those sentenced come from prominent Shiite families on the strategic island, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Shiites represent about 70 percent of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens, but claim they face widespread discrimination such as being blocked from high-level political and military posts. Protesters demand the 200-year-old ruling Sunni dynasty give up its hold on power and allow a freely elected government.
More than 30 people have died since protests began in February. Military rule was lifted in June after a massive crackdown that included hundreds of arrests and workplace purges.
Also Monday, the court gave 15-year prison terms to six Bahrain University students charged with causing violence and staging attacks. Another student received an 18-year jail sentence, al-Alawi said.
Last week’s convictions of the medical personnel — with sentences ranging from five to 15 years — brought strong denunciations from rights groups such as Amnesty International.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep concern" over the sentences and calling for the release of all political detainees in Bahrain, said Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky.