A Bahrain appeals court upheld jail sentences today against 20 opposition figures for plotting to overthrow the state, including eight prominent activists facing life in prison.
The group represents some of the most high-profile leaders of Bahrain's protest movement for a greater political voice in the Gulf kingdom.
Among the eight sentenced to life is rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year.
The other 12 have prison terms ranging from five to 15 years, with seven of them convicted in absentia.
"We totally reject today's verdict, which is clearly not a step toward beginning to solve the issues in Bahrain," said former parliament member Abdul Jalil Khalil, a member of the country's main Shi'ite political bloc al-Wefaq.
Shi'ites represent about 70 per cent of Bahrain's citizens but face systematic discrimination, such as being excluded from top government posts.
Bahrain's Sunni rulers have set in motion a series of reforms but opposition leaders say the measures don't go far enough.
The 13 defendants held in Bahrain did not appear in court and family members were barred under tight security.
They have previously claimed they suffered beatings and other abuses behind bars.
Washington-based pressure group Human Rights First spokesman Brian Dooley described the court's decision as exposing the government's reform pledges as a "hoax."
"The pattern of repression continues ... and it's hard to see how the Bahrain government intends to make any progress on human rights," he said.