Mohamed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) [advocacy website], reported Sunday that a Bahrain court has sentenced 50 defendants [BYSHR blog] to prison terms ranging between five and 15 years in prison, with 20 of the defendants sentenced in absentia. The mass trial was for alleged links to the February 14 Youth Coalition [Facebook page], a militant group blamed for bombings and other anti-government attacks in Bahrain, and charges included "seeking to topple the ruling system" [AP report].
Bahrain has faced civil unrest as Shiite-led protesters seek political empowerment in the Sunni-ruled country. In July the Bahrain National Assembly [BBC backgrounder] approved laws [JURIST report] increasing penalties for those who commit or incite terrorism as an effort to half the "dangerous escalation" of unrest and political tensions. Earlier that month 29 protesters were sentenced to one month in prison [JURIST report] for entering Pearl Square, the heavily fortified area that was once the center of Bahrain's anti-government uprising. Last month three protesters were sentenced to imprisonment [JURIST report] for taking part in anti-government protests as well as attempting to kill a police officer. In May a Bahrain court sentenced six individuals [JURIST report] to a year in prison for insulting King Hamad via Twitter. Also in May a Bahrain court issued 15-year prison sentences [JURIST report] to 31 protesters for their role in firebomb attacks as part of anti-government protests.