A Bahrain court sentenced 50 people to prison Sunday after a mass trial for alleged links to a militant group blamed for bombings and other antigovernment attacks in the Gulf nation, a rights activist said.
“A group of Feb. 14 activists were sentenced to between five and 15 years in jail,” Yousif al-Muhafda of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told Reuters.
The center said there were human-rights campaigners among those convicted "under the internationally criticized and vague terrorism law" and that the sentences added up to more than 400 years.
"This was a sham trial with a political verdict. They should be released immediately," the center's acting president, Maryam al-Khawaja, said in a statement.
The defendants are accused of forming an illegal group opposing the political system, "training elements to commit violence and vandalism" and "attacking security men," according to the charge sheet.
The convictions mark the broadest blow yet to backers of the almost daily protests by the Feb. 14 movement, named after the date in 2011 when Bahrain's Shia majority began an uprising seeking greater political rights from the country's Sunni rulers and the deposal of the kingdom's al-Khalifa dynasty.
Bahrain's head of public prosecution described the Feb. 14 group as a terrorist organization.
The verdicts could stir more unrest in the nation, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The main Shia opposition party, Al Wefaq, called it a "black day for justice."
Mohamed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said 20 suspects were convicted in absentia. Charges included seeking to topple the ruling system.
Thousands of people have been arrested in Bahrain's crackdowns.
Asked for comment, an official told Reuters a government statement on the matter was being prepared.
Al Jazeera and wire services