Bahrain's High Criminal Court jailed 18 men yesterday for being part of an alleged Iranian-supported terrorist cell.
According to Akhbar Al-Khaleej, the convicts, all Bahraini citizens were sentenced between five years and life imprisonment having been charged with seeking to carry out terrorist operations in Bahrain on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). They were also convicted of receiving training abroad and possessing explosives since 2017.
Eight of the defendants, aged between 17 and 37, were handed life sentences, two received 15-year terms and a further two were given ten years in jail. Five men were jailed for five years and one was jailed for seven years.
Only half of the accused were present in court, the remaining were sentenced in absentia as they have fled the country.
The Public Prosecution claims that the defendants "set up a group to commit terrorist operations inside the Kingdom, and recruited the rest of the defendants, who joined the group later." It has also been alleged that the group sought to avenge last year's assassination of IRGC General Qassem Soleimani and that they named their group after him.
In 2018 Bahraini authorities carried out 116 arrests of people accused of affiliations with the IRGC with plans to carry out attacks against senior figures of the security services. Tehran has denied the allegations that it has supported armed groups in Bahrain and stoked national unrest.
Iran has often laid claim to the territory of Bahrain since the 18 century and passed a bill in 1957 declaring it to be the 14th province of Iran. These claims continued until Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971 following a referendum a year earlier.
In 2011, the Shia-led opposition staged protests across the country demanding reforms under the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family who responded by cracking down on dissent and sought the help of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to help crush the peaceful protest movement.
According to Human Rights Watch's (HRW) World Report 2021, the kingdom escalated its repression against online dissent last year and upheld death sentences against opposition activists after unfair trials.
"Bahraini authorities use the many repressive tools available to them to silence and punish anyone who criticizes the government," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director, earlier this month.
"Bahrain has escalated its use of the death penalty, targeted people for their social media activity, and denied medical treatment to prominent opposition figures in detention."