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Bahrain sentences four protesters to death, deepening anger among Shiites

A military court today sentenced four Shiite demonstrators to death, and handed life sentences to three more, for the deaths of two policemen. Rights activists say the detainees were tortured and denied legal rights.

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Mr. Maskati says he has talked to dozens of people released from detention in past weeks, and nearly all have said they were tortured, but are too afraid to speak publicly about it. At least four people have died in police custody in the last month with marks of abuse on their bodies.

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The government says the use of military tribunals to try civilians is justified under the state of emergency, which was declared March 15 as Saudi troops and tanks rolled into the island-nation to help put down the uprising.

But a lawyer representing one of the defendants says that military tribunals are only legal under marshal law, not a state of emergency, although he unsuccessfully challenged the jurisdiction of the court.

“It’s difficult to say what we believe, frankly,” he says, requesting anonymity for his safety. "It’s very difficult to comment under these circumstances. But we believe the verdict is unfair and we are disappointed.”

'All of Bahrain is crying'

The pall of fear has fallen heavily on Bahrain in recent weeks, with many Bahrainis too afraid of retribution to talk to international media or give their names if they do. Rights groups say as many as 800 people have been detained since the protest movement began, and more than two dozen have been killed. One of those detained was Mohammed Al Tajer, a prominent defense lawyer who was representing one of the defendants.

Mr. Al Khalifa, the head of the Information Affairs Authority, said Wednesday that 312 detainees have been released since March 15, but that 62 crimes and 343 felonies were being transferred to courts. He said 23 doctors and 23 nurses would be charged with crimes next week. Healthcare professionals, particularly those who provided care to wounded protesters, have been targeted in the government crackdown.

The sister of one of the defendants told the Monitor that her young brother was a peaceful protester whose confession was fabricated and forced.

She says that in the few minutes her family was allowed to see him after each trial hearing, he told them that he was kept constantly blindfolded and did not know where he was being held. He refused to reveal more about his treatment because he did not want to worry them, says the sister, who asked to remain anonymous to protect both herself and her brother.

Today, after hearing his own death sentence, her brother tried to tell his mother not to worry, that he would appeal it. “But my mother was crying," she says. "I couldn’t stay because I didn’t want him to see me crying. All of Bahrain is crying.”

Such bitterness and resentment is building as the government persists in its campaign to crush all dissent. If the government does not relent, it could eventually push some Bahrainis into the arms of extremist groups who would use violence to overthrow the government, says Kinninmont.

“The greater worry is the resentment it's storing up for the future,” she says. “I think the opposition doesn't have a lot of options, but I think the anger that's being stored up will be expressed in some ways in the future.”

Bahrain protests: Five key facts

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