|Bahrain's Shia politicians could make a bid for a majority in the country's elections on October 23 [AFP]
Bahrain has charged 23 Shia Muslim opposition activists with terrorism and conspiring against the country's government, raising tensions before parliamentary polls in the Sunni-dominated Gulf state.
Authorities announced the charges on Wednesday against the activists, who were arrested during a sweeping government crackdown earlier this year.
The suspects, who are due to appear in court on October 28, are accused of forming and financing an illegal organisation aimed at stopping the state from carrying out its functions, Abdurrahman al-Sayyed, a representative of the public prosecutor, said.
They also face charges of resorting to terrorism to achieve their alleged goal and spreading false and tendentious information, al-Sayyed said.
In a statement carried by the country's official news agency BNA, al-Sayyed said the accused are also charged with fomenting sectarian unrest. They could face life in prison under Bahrain's penal code.
The announcement on Thursday comes just 11 days before the country's legislative elections.
Amnesty International, the UK-based rights organisation, has given warning on what it calls an intensifying "clampdown by the authorities on Shia opposition and human-rights activists in the run-up" to the poll.
Bahrain's Shia Muslim majority of nearly 70 per cent has long complained of discrimination in state jobs and housing and claims they are barred from influential posts in the security forces.
But Shias currently have 17 of the 40 seats in the country's parliament and could make a bid for a majority in the elections on October 23.
In the 1990s, the country was hit by a wave of sectarian unrest, which has abated since the authorities launched steps to convert the Gulf emirate into a constitutional monarchy.
Bahrain has the only elected parliament in the Gulf Arab region apart from Kuwait, although bills need to be approved by an upper house whose members are appointed by the king.