DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Bahrain court sentenced a prominent Shiite cleric to a 1-year suspended prison sentence Sunday and seized assets belonging to him and his ministry, part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the tiny island kingdom.
Sheikh Isa Qassim faced charges of money laundering and fueling extremism in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, allegations rejected by his supporters. Authorities stripped Qassim of his citizenship last June, sparking fears his trial would see him deported from the Shiite-majority island.
Qassim's followers had urged protesters to gather in Shiite mosques across the tiny island nation ahead of his sentencing, but there was no immediate turmoil.
The sentence avoids authorities attempting to raid Qassim's home, surrounded for months by a sit-in. Police have besieged Qassim's hometown of Diraz for months as well, tightly controlling access. But he still could be deported at any time in theory as he is now stateless.
Shiites and others took part in 2011 Arab Spring protests for greater rights from the monarchy of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base. Bahrain put down the protests with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Since then, Bahrain has seen low-level unrest. But the yearlong crackdown on dissent has raised the stakes, with local Shiite militant groups claiming some attacks. Bahrain long has accused Iran of aiding militants, something the Shiite power denies.
Meanwhile, activists have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Independent news gathering on the island also has grown more difficult, with the government refusing to accredit two Associated Press journalists and others.
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