Bahrain extends detention of opposition leader

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Bahrainis hold up portraits of the head of the banned Shia opposition movement al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman during clashes with riot police following a protest against his arrest on December 29, 2014 in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of Manama. AFP / Mohammed al-Shaikh

Published Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bahrain's opposition chief Sheikh Ali Salman was remanded in custody Tuesday for one week pending an investigation into charges, a Bahraini prosecutor said, as international human rights organizations demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the prominent pro-democracy leader.

Prosecutor Nayef Mahmoud said in a statement that Salman was 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.”

Sheikh Salman, secretary-general of Al-Wefaq opposition movement, was arrested Sunday, a day after he, among other figures, led a peaceful rally near the capital Manama 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.

Al-Wefaq swiftly denounced his detention, saying it "entrenches the tyrannical rule in Bahrain and closes all doors for a political solution."

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

The soft-spoken Salman, 49, is considered a moderate who has pushed for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain unlike hardline groups who have demanded the toppling the al-Khalifa dynasty.

"We want a constitutional monarchy where the al-Khalifas would be the monarchs," Salman told AFP in May 2011, shortly after Bahrain's deadly crackdown on month-long protests.

"We said: The people want to reform the regime. We did not raise the slogan of toppling the regime," said the advocate of peaceful protests.

On Sunday, 37 international human rights organizations demanded in a statement the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Salman.

Sheikh Salman “is known to be a political and national figure that has always called for dialogue and peaceful procedures as clearly stated in The Non-Violence Principles Declaration. He also calls for the peaceful transfer of power according to what international treaties stipulate,” the statement read.

Human rights organizations said Salman’s arrest was a confiscation of “the right to freedom of expression and violating the right to freedom of association.”

In Geneva, the United Nations human right office said it was concerned a potentially lengthy prison sentence could be handed to Salman.

"Opposition parties are fundamental pillars of any democracy and Salman's arrest risks intensifying the fraught political scene that has seen anti-government protests for nearly four years," said a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, the country's Hezbollah resistance movement condemned Sheikh Salman’s arrest and described it as a “violation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” saying that it reflected the governments’ indignation at the opposition’s boycott of last month's general elections.

With Saudi Arabia's help, Bahrain, a country ruled by the al-Khalifa family for over 200 years, crushed peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began on February 14, 2011.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.

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

The current premier, Prince Khalifa bin Salman, is Hamad's uncle and has been in office since 1970.

"The royal family retains all powers -- executive, legislative and judicial, in addition to security, information and wealth," Salman said in October.

The opposition boycotted November polls calling them a "farce.”

Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by al-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.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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