Manama: A security court in Bahrain on Wednesday sentenced 19 people, including a 16-year-old Iraqi soccer player, to up to five years in prison for taking part in Shiite-led protests against the Gulf nation`s Sunni rulers.
The decision brings the total number of people sentenced this week to at least 81, as Bahrain`s authorities step up prosecutions of hundreds of people arrested in the crackdown on dissent. Bahrain`s majority Shiites claim they face widespread discrimination. More than 30 people have been killed since February in Bahrain`s unrest, which was inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.
On Wednesday, the court sentenced 13 people to five years in prison, and six people to one year terms for alleged attacks during the unrest, including trying to torch a police station, the Information Affairs Authority said in a statement. The verdicts can be appealed.
Family members, journalists and human rights activists attended the hearing, which took place in the Al-Khamees police station, according to the statement.
The detention of the Iraqi teenager, Zulfiqar Naji, sparked angry demonstrations in Iraq and as far away as Canada calling for his release. It also prompted the Iraq government to make a plea to Bahrain on his behalf. Naji played for a local soccer club in Bahrain until his arrest.
The player`s father, Abdulameer Naji, said in July that his son was taken into custody from their Bahrain home in April on suspicion of participating in protests. The father has since fled to Iraq but the boy`s mother and several of his siblings have remained in Bahrain.
At least six players for Bahrain`s national soccer team were detained — many of them beaten and tortured — during months of political turmoil. One of them was sentenced to two years in prison.
Shiite Muslims 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.