A special military court in Bahrain has convicted 21 mostly Shia activists of conspiring to overthrow the government during widespread street protests earlier this year.

Eight of them have been handed life sentences while the rest face jail terms of up to 15 years. Some were sentenced in absentia.

The verdicts were handed down just days before the Bahraini authorities start a national dialogue for reconciliation.

What message does this send out? Who is going to want to talk now?

Inside Story, with presenter Laura Kyle, discusses with Saeed Al Shihabi, a member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement in London sentenced in absentia to life in prison in Bahrain; Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division in Washington DC; and Doctor Saadi Mohammad Abdallah, a former member of Bahrain's parliament in Manama.

This episode of Inside Story aired from June 23, 2011.

Source: Al Jazeera