Bahrain’s newly re-elected opposition leader in custody

Published December 29th, 2014 - 11:30 GMT

The Interior Ministry said in a statement Sunday that Sheikh Ali Salman – one of the most prominent opposition figures in the US-allied country – had been summoned for questioning by the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation.

"Legal procedures are now being finalized before the case is referred to the Public Prosecution," the statement read, without elaborating what the “case” was.

Sheikh Salman, secretary-general of al-Wefaq opposition movement, was among several prominent figures who led a peaceful rally near the capital Manama on Friday staged to protest against last month's general elections, which the opposition boycotted, and call for the dismissal of both the parliament and the government.

About 2,000 people participated in the rally, the ministry said.

Sheikh Salman’s lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlan, tweeted that Salman had been accused of "inciting hatred against the regime and calling for its overthrow by force.”

He said wasn’t allowed to attend his client's questioning.

Shamlan said the al-Wefaq chief was also accused of "insulting the judiciary and the executive branch,” of "sectarian incitement,” of "spreading false news likely to cause panic and undermine security" and "participation in events detrimental to the economy.”

In a statement, al-Wefaq described Sheikh Salman's detention as "a dangerous and miscalculated adventure that complicates the political and security scene in Bahrain."

The opposition group also denounced the security forces for erecting barricades outside several Shia villages, mainly on roads leading to the al-Wefaq headquarters in the suburbs of Manama.

Following Salman's arrest, clashes broke out between security forces and hundreds of pro-democracy advocates, witnesses said, adding that Bahraini forces used tear gas and birdshot to disperse the protesters who had gathered outside Sheikh Salman’s house in the village of Bilad al-Qadim near the capital.

Salman, 49, secured a new four-year term as al-Wefaq chief at its general congress on Friday.

In July, Bahrain’s Justice Ministry sued al-Wefaq, demanding that it rectify its "illegal status following the annulment of four general assemblies for lack of a quorum and the non-commitment to the public and transparency requirements for holding them."

The Manama administrative court slapped al-Wefaq with a ban on October 28, right before elections, and gave it three months to hold an assembly to elect its leadership.

The ruling came after al-Wefaq announced it was boycotting a parliamentary election in November, the first in the Gulf state since authorities crushed, with Saudi Arabia's help, peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

At least 89 people are estimated to have been killed and thousands have been arrested and tried since the uprising erupted.

Al-Wefaq, which has called for an elected prime minister who is independent from the unelected ruling royal family, withdrew its lawmakers from parliament following the bloody crackdown back in 2011.

Bahrain, home base of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has yet to resolve the conflict between the Sunni-led monarchy and the opposition, which argues that the country’s Shia majority population is discriminated against.

Al-Wefaq slammed last month’s elections, which was also boycotted by all the major opposition groups in the oil-rich kingdom, as a "farce."

Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by the Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.

Early December, a Bahrain court sentenced Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of prominent rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, to three years in prison for “insulting the king” by tearing up a photograph of him.

A couple of days earlier, Zainab’s sister Maryam, who is also a prominent rights activist, was sentenced in absentia to one year in jail for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

Bryan Dooley, head of Human Rights Defenders Program at the US-based Human Rights First, described Maryam’s sentence as a “powerful warning to human rights activists who criticize the regime.”

Moreover, Nabeel Rajab, director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and co-founder of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), went on trial late October over remarks published on his Twitter account that were critical of state institutions.

BCHR blamed the arrest of Salman on the UK, which recently announced it will open a new military base in Bahrain, in an act that Rajab had described as a “reward” for silence on rights abuses in the kingdom.

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