Bahrain court adjourns trial of protest activists

Bahrain's special security court on Monday adjourned until next week the trial of 21 mostly Shiite opposition leaders and political activists accused of plotting against the state.

The postponement is meant to give defense lawyers time to examine military prosecutors' evidence, state media reported.

The suspects — 14 in custody and the others being tried in absentia — are accused of attempting to overthrow the 200-year-old Sunni dynasty and of having links to "a terrorist organization abroad." That is an apparent reference to Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Bahrain's rulers have claimed was involved in the strategic island kingdom's Shiite-led protests earlier this year.

Authorities are seeking to prosecute opposition leaders and others after months of clashes and protests in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

They are being tried in a special security court set up under martial law. The same court last month sentenced four people to death for killing two policemen during the unrest.

In a separate case, the court on Monday convicted seven defendants on a range of lesser charges including "assembling at a public area, rioting, holding political leaflets and calling openly for the hatred of the ruling system," the Bahrain News Agency reported.

The seven received sentences of one to three years in prison. The sentences can be appealed.

Among the 21 being tried for trying to overthrow the government are Hassan Mushaima, the leader of Al Haq movement. He was among the first opposition leaders arrested after emergency rule was declared in March to quell weeks of anti-government protests.

Mushaima returned from self-imposed exile in late February and immediately joined in street protests that were inspired by revolts against autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. He and fellow Haq member Abdul Jalil al-Singace were among 25 Shiite activists on trial last year on charges of trying to overthrow the nation's Sunni rulers.

Also on trial are Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the country's most prominent human rights activist; Ibrahim Sharif, a key Sunni leader in the kingdom's Shiite-led opposition; and Ali Abdul Emam, a blogger and founder of a popular discussion forum Bahrain-On-Line.

The defendants have entered not guilty pleas. The trial resumes Sunday.

Bahrain's majority Shiites, who have long demanded a greater political voice and rights, dominated the protests that began in February. They comprise about 70 percent of Bahrain's population, but are excluded from top government and security posts.