Bahrain Accuses 17 People of Forming "Militant Group"

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Published Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bahrain's public prosecutor has charged 17 people with allegedly forming a militant group and carrying out bombings that wounded security personnel, the state news agency said on Saturday.

The group had set off bombs in the island kingdom's Maqaba, al-Janabiya, Budaiya and Qarya vilages, prosecutor Ahmed al-Hammadi was quoted as saying.

"The members had agreed to set up a terror cell to make explosives and weapons to carry out terror acts, target security forces ... and spread panic among people," he claimed, according to Bahrain News Agency.

Their trial will begin on March 22 and two of the defendants outside the country will be tried in absentia, he added.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been rocked by unrest since mass protests in 2011 called for a "real" constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister who is independent of the ruling royal family and demanded reforms and a bigger share in government.

With the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, authorities crushed the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began on February 14, 2011, in a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.

At least 93 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since the uprising erupted.

Meanwhile, Bahrain continues to hold opposition chief Sheikh Ali Salman in custody.

Last week, a court in Manama ruled that Salman, the head of the al-Wefaq association, should remain in detention during his trial, rejecting a second request for bail, a judicial source said.

Salman, 49, was arrested on December 28 for allegedly "promoting the overthrow and change of the political regime by force" and inciting disobedience and hatred in public statements. Al-Wefaq said in January the charges against Salman lack credibility, "as he is known to be a prominent advocate of peace and reform."

Salman's arrest sparked condemnation from the United States, Iran and international rights groups. This month five UN rights experts urged Bahrain to free Salman, saying the charges against him "appear to stem from the government's dissatisfaction" with Salman's calls "for the establishment of a democratic regime and for government accountability."

His arrest also triggered demonstrations across the kingdom, ruled by King Hamad.

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

Crackdown on dissent has spiked in the past years in the country where insulting the king is a felony. In April, Bahrain’s cabinet endorsed an amendment to article 214 of the penal code to increase from two to five years the maximum sentence for such a “crime.”

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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