DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A top court in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain sentenced two people to death on Wednesday and issued lengthy prison sentences against nearly all 60 defendants on terrorism charges in a case that highlights the rivalry between Sunni Gulf states and Shiite-ruled Iran.
A statement citing a prosecutor and published on the state-run Bahrain News Agency said 19 people were sentenced to life in prison, two were acquitted and the rest were ordered to serve between 15 and five years in prison.
The prosecutor said 36 of the defendants were tried while in custody, suggesting the remaining 24 were tried in absentia.
Members of the group were found guilty of importing explosives, firearms and ammunitions, with the prosecutor saying that in one instance machineguns and explosives were seized inside a speedboat off Bahrain's coast. The prosecutor alleged that fugitives in Iran and Iraq communicated with members of the group to smuggle explosives and ammunition into Bahrain. The prosecutor also alleged that the group's leader is a fugitive in Germany who organized travel to Iranian Revolutionary Guard camps for training.
The prosecutor's statement included a number of incidents allegedly linked to the group, including the killing of a policeman on his farm and an attack on the Jau Reformatory and Rehabilitation Center that led to the escape of several convicts and the killing of a policeman.
Iran has consistently denied allegations it has armed protesters in Bahrain.
The tiny island-nation of Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is ruled by a Sunni monarchy that is allied with neighboring Saudi Arabia. Protests in 2011 by Bahrain's majority Shiite population were crushed with help from Saudi and Emirati troops.
The Europe-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said 47 of the defendants were also stripped of their nationality.
The rights group said that since 2012, 553 people have had their citizenship revoked by the government, rendering most of them stateless. It said 21 Bahraini nationals are on death row and that three were executed last year.
Amnesty International says four Bahrainis whose nationality was revoked in 2012 were expelled to Iraq this week. Another four told Amnesty International they would be expelled to Iraq on Thursday.
Meanwhile, supporters on Wednesday said prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who lost his citizenship and remains under house arrest in Bahrain, has returned to a local hospital for surgery.
Sheikh Maytham al-Salman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said Sheikh Isa will undergo a hernia surgery.
The cleric could be deported at any time after authorities stripped his citizenship in mid-2016 over accusations that he fueled extremism and laundered money. His supporters deny the allegations.