A Bahraini court on Monday revoked the citizenship of nine people convicted of trying to smuggle weapons into the country and it sentenced them to life in prison, the Gulf Arab kingdom’s official news agency said.
King Hamad, in a move that alarmed human rights groups, last year toughened penalties in anti-terrorism laws ahead of planned anti-government protests by approving proposals that included stripping people convicted of “dangerous terror crimes” of their citizenship.
Sunni Muslim-ruled Bahrain, strategically important to the West because it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet as a bulwark against Iran across the Gulf, has been dogged by unrest since 2011 mainly by members of the majority Shi’ite community demanding more democracy. Demonstrations have increasingly given way to violence in recent months in which militants have set off home-made bombs that killed or wounded several policemen.
BNA news agency said the Fourth Grand Criminal Court found the nine men – who are all Bahraini-born Shi’ites – guilty of smuggling weapons, including explosives, into the Gulf kingdom in a case that dates back to December 2013.
Three of the nine were also sentenced to three years in jail on charges of assaulting public security personnel in addition to their life imprisonment, BNA said.
The agency said the men had received military training by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in various locations in Shi’ite-ruled Iran as well as funds from Tehran. Iran denies any involvement in Bahrain’s internal affairs.
A court last month ordered nine citizens stripped of their nationality after being convicted of forming a terrorist cell and planning to smuggle weapons into the kingdom.
In 2012, Bahrain stripped 31 people of their citizenship after they were convicted of damaging state security.
Last month, Amnesty International said that 10 people among the 31 were facing deportation or imprisonment, a move the rights group said was part of an array of “arbitrary” powers Manama had granted itself to punish opponents of the government.