By JON GAMBRELL
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Bahrain court on Tuesday revoked the citizenship of 115 people at a mass terrorism trial, sentencing dozens to prison amid a years-long crackdown on all dissent in the island kingdom.
Bahrain’s Public Prosecution said the case involved a little-known militant group it identified as the “Zulfiqar Brigades,” whose mass arrests authorities previously announced in 2016.
Prosecutors said those accused built and detonated bombs, received weapons training and plotted to kill police officers in Bahrain, an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.
A statement from prosecutors said 53 defendants received life sentences, while dozens of others faced prison time. It said 23 defendants were acquitted.
Bahraini officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment for more information.
Bahrain, a nation only some 760 square kilometers (290 square miles) in size, is home to some 1.4 million people. About half are Bahraini citizens, the majority of them Shiite. The island is also home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and a new British naval base.
The island has been ruled since 1783 by the Sunni Al Khalifa family. King Hamad, who took the throne in 1999, initially took steps to move the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. The first parliamentary elections since 1973 were held in 2002.
However, the island’s Shiite majority accused the government of treating them like second-class citizens. They joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped violently put down the demonstrations.
Amid this recent crackdown, local Shiite militant groups have carried out several attacks on security forces. Independent news gathering in Bahrain also has grown more difficult, with the government refusing to accredit two Associated Press reporters and others while shutting down a prominent local independent newspaper.