Bahrain sentences Shiite activist to 5 years

Bahrain's security court on Thursday convicted a Shiite opposition activist and sentenced him to five years in prison for the attempted murder of a policeman during anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

The Bahrain News Agency said another activist was acquitted of the same charge in the court that was set up after emergency rule was imposed in March. The report said the convicted protester, Abdulla Mohammed Habib, can appeal his sentence.

Bahrain's king declared martial law March 15 to crush weeks of demonstrations by the island's Shiite majority, which has campaigned for greater freedoms and an elected government in the Sunni-ruled nation.

At least 30 people have died since the protests, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, began in February. Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, athletes, activists and Shiite professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been detained in the past month.

Last week, four Shiite activists were sentenced to death for killing two policemen during the protests. Three others were convicted as accomplices and were sentenced to life in prison.

On Tuesday, Bahrain's Justice Minister Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa said 23 doctors and 24 nurses have been charged for their role in the unrest, including for participating in attempts to topple the island's Sunni monarchy and taking part in illegal rallies.

Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, Washington's main counterweight against Iran's expanding military influence in the oil-rich Gulf.

In Geneva, the U.N.'s top rights official said Bahrain's use of closed-door trials violates international legal codes.

"The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern. The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

"The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain's international human rights obligations," she said.

Pillay said more than 1,000 people may remain in custody, including lawyers, journalists, bloggers and activists. She also urged Bahrain's authorities to open a probe into violence by security forces against protests.