Bahrain's Lower National Safety Court on Thursday sentenced nine citizens to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a police officer [BNA report]. The decision was announced by the government-owned Bahrain News Agency, without details of the charges or the incident. Among the convicted was prominent Shiite cleric Mohammed Habib al-Saffaf. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights [advocacy website] said that all nine were involved in previous anti-government demonstrations [statement]. This special court, instituted in mid-March under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's three-month state of emergency [JURIST report] has been internationally criticized, most recently [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website].
Six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] in March after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana. Many protesters are calling for the removal of the royal family, which has been in power since the 18th century. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. In April, human rights organizations including HRW and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy website] criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for rampant human rights abuses related to anti-government protests.