Dubai: A Bahraini special court has upheld life jail sentences served on seven Shiite opposition leaders convicted of plotting to overthrow the regime in the Gulf kingdom, a news agency said.

Jail sentences against seven other activists, ranging between two to 15 years and including Sunni opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, were also upheld by the national safety appeals court, it said, quoting military general prosecutor Colonel Yusof Fulaifel.

Seven others, one sentenced to life in jail and the remainder to 15 years, remained at large and had not appealed against their sentences.

The appealed verdicts will go to a civil court of cassation for a final decision.

The eight activists sentenced to life include Hassan Mashaima, head of the Shiite opposition Haq movement, Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement, and Shiite human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen.

Activist and Haq member Abduljalil al-Singace, who was released in February after six months in jail, was also sentenced to life.

The other four are Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, who holds a Swedish passport; his cousin Abduljalil al-Muqdad and Saeed Mirza, both of whom are Wafa members, and Said Abdulnabi Shihab, who was sentenced in absentia.

Sharif, the Sunni leader of the Waed secular group, who played a prominent role in month-long protests for democratic reform that were crushed in March, received a five-year sentence.

He and other leading opposition figures were arrested amid the Sunni authorities' crackdown on the protests which were led by the islands' Shiite majority.

Nine of the defendants had been in custody on similar charges in the past before being set free under a royal pardon in February aimed at calming the protests. The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights condemned the court's ruling.

"We deeply regret the judgements," Khadija Sharif, the organisation's assistant secretary general, told a news agency after the rulings were handed down on Wednesday.

Sharif said the convictions were "arbitrary" and "inequitable" and called on the Bahraini courts to release the prisoners.

Scores more activists are facing trial on charges linked to the protests in a semi-martial court set up under a "state of national safety" decreed by King Hamad a day before protesters were evicted from a Manama square in mid-March.

Authorities backed by troops that rolled into Bahrain from fellow Gulf nations quelled the protests while security forces set about arresting hundreds of activists, as well as doctors, medics and teachers accused of backing protesters.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the unrest. The opposition puts the death toll at 30.

Iranian lawmakers on Wednesday criticized Saudi Arabia's "role" in suppressing the protests in Bahrain and Yemen, and called on the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate the human rights situation in both countries.

The statement, posted on the Iranian parliament's website, was signed by 210 MPs of the 290-seat parliament.

Tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia rose sharply in March when Saudi troops intervened to help Bahrain's Sunni ruling family suppress the month-long protest.

(Agencies)