MANAMA (Reuters) - Thirty three Bahrainis faced military court hearings on Sunday, on charges of illegal activities during weeks of protests that rocked the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year, the state news agency said.
Opposition groups estimate about 400 people, most of them from the country’s majority Shi’ite population, are on trial, but the government says the numbers are far less.
Bahrain’s Sunni rulers, who host the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Manama, called in troops from fellow Sunni-led Gulf states to help crush mostly Shi’ite-led democracy protests in March. The government said the protests had a sectarian agenda and help from Shi’ite power Iran, which the opposition denies.
Bahrain lifted emergency law last week, but tensions remain and the trials of dozens of politicians, activists and doctors has provoked more resentment among Shi’ites. Several villages have seen daily protests since last week.
Two detained members of the main Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq, Jawad Fairouz and Matar Ibrahim Matar, pled not guilty on Sunday to spreading false news to the media and joining illegal gatherings.
Their family said the trial was called without warning to them or their attorneys. The military prosecutor general has previously said attorneys can consult detainees after the first hearing, which determines whether defendants have a lawyer.
Relatives of Matar said they rushed to court after an assistant to their lawyer, who was at the courthouse, learned Matar was to appear in court. They missed the hearing but were allowed to visit him, the first time since he was detained.
“He said he was treated well and only beaten lightly once,” a relative said. “He had on the same clothes as when he was taken ... He looked well, and healthy, but he is in a solitary confinement. He has spent 41 days in jail all alone.”
Wefaq says some 50 people have already been sentenced, from light prison terms to two execution sentences.
Bahrain’s official news agency reported seven more people were sentenced on Sunday, with prison terms of one to six years for convictions that ranged from illegally storing weapons to attempted murder of policemen.
Twenty people were brought in for another hearing on charges over the use of violence in protests that blocked off the kingdom’s financial district, but their trial was postponed.
Among those sentenced was a Shi’ite female poet to a year in prison on charges of joining illegal protests and incitement against the monarchy.
Twenty-year-old Ayat al-Qurmuzi was arrested after reciting poems which mocked the king and prime minster in Pearl Roundabout, the focal point of the protests where activists camped out for some six weeks in February and March.
A relative at the trial said Qurmuzi smiled as her sentence was delivered and a move for appeal was accepted. The relative said diplomats and rights group had put pressure on the government to lighten her sentence.
The family member, who saw Qurmuzi after the hearing, said the young poet complained of days of torture. The government says there is no systematic use of torture and all cases of abuse presented will be investigated.
“She said she was beaten and electrocuted, and they would stick her hands in toilets,” said the family member, who was angry about Qurmuzi’s sentence.
“Expressing your opinion should not be a crime ... We want her released immediately, this sentence is unjust.”
Additional reporting by Nour Merza; Editing by Matthew Jones