Bahrain court upholds five-year jail terms for activists

Bahraini protestors show portraits of Hussain Hubail and other jailed Bahraini photographers Ahmed Humaidan, Hasan Matooq and Ahmed al-Fardan during an anti-government protest in the village of Shakhora, west of Manama, on January 3, 2014 (AFP Photo/Mohammed al-Shaikh)

Dubai (AFP) - A Bahraini appeals court Sunday confirmed five-year jail terms imposed on nine Shiites, among them a photojournalist and an online activist, for calling for the overthrow of the Sunni monarchy, a judicial source said.

Dozens of Bahraini Shiites have been handed lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in protests that have shaken the kingdom since February 2011.

The court upheld an April ruling sentencing photographer Hussain Hubail and activist Jassim al-Nuaimi, along with seven other Shiites, to five years in prison, after convicting them of promoting the overthrow of the regime "through illegal means via media and social networks".

They were also convicted of taking part in, and calling for, protests last year.

The defence had insisted their clients were innocent and that confessions used against them were obtained under torture.

Media rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) had condemned their sentences in April, denouncing authorities for "cracking down on freedom of information" by detaining journalists and activists and carrying out "sham trials".

On August 31, an appeals court upheld a controversial 10-year-jail term against photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan, who was convicted over his presence at a 2012 attack on a police station.

The tiny but strategic kingdom, just across the Gulf from Iran and home base for the US Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years after authorities crushed the 2011 uprising.

Persistent protests still spark clashes with the police.

The International Federation for Human Rights says at least 89 people have been killed in Bahrain since the uprising began in February 2011.