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DUBAI, May 12 (Reuters) – Qatar has sentenced four men to prison, including two for life, after they protested a new law that barred some members of their tribe from voting in the country’s first legislative elections, court documents showed.

The four men were convicted on Tuesday on several charges including gathering masses to demand changes to laws, disturbing public security, and refusing police orders to leave, according to the documents, seen by Reuters.

Hazaa Abu Shraydeh al-Marri and Rashid Ali al-Marri, who are both lawyers, were given a life sentence, while two men described as exiled poets who appeared in online videos linked to the protests were sentenced to 15 years in absentia. The four can appeal the verdict.

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Members of the Al Murrah tribe, one of the Gulf’s largest Bedouin groups with roots tracing back to eastern Saudi Arabia, gathered in August to protest a new electoral law that deemed some of them ineligible to vote. read more

The vote, held last October to elect two thirds of the advisory Shura Council, inflamed domestic tensions around electoral inclusion and citizenship in the small but wealthy Gulf state, where political parties are banned.

Rights groups said thousands of Qataris were excluded from voting.

“Sentencing critics of an inherently discriminatory law to life in prison is a glaring reminder that Qatar is little different from its autocratic neighbors,” said Michael Page, deputy director in the MENA division of Human Rights Watch.

“These severe sentences send a crystal clear message to Qatari citizens, residents, and even incoming World Cup fans: There is no space for free speech here,” Page added.

The Qatari government declined to comment.

The issue of rights in Qatar has come to the fore ahead of the Gulf country’s hosting of this year’s soccer World Cup. read more

The Al Murrah tribe has had a fractious relationship with Qatar’s ruling family stretching back decades. In 2005, Qatar stripped some tribe members of their citizenship, which the government said was because they held dual nationality, but which the tribe said was punishment for suspected involvement in a failed 1996 coup.

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Reporting by Gulf Bureau, editing Aziz El Yaakoubi and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.