Bahrain Court Rejects Bail Request for Opposition Leader

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Published Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Bahraini court on Wednesday again rejected a request for bail from an opposition chief, whose trial for allegedly seeking to overthrow the regime has sparked international concern.

The court in Manama ruled that Sheikh Ali 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, wearing a traditional cleric's cloak and a white turban, appeared before the court with seven defense lawyers, the source said.

The court also rejected a request for Bahrain's interior minister and the country's head of general security to be called to testify, saying they are not linked to the case. It then adjourned the trial to March 25.

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.”

Bahrain says it has implemented wide reforms and accuses the opposition of making unreasonable demands.

Last year, al-Wefaq boycotted a parliamentary election partly because it said voting districts favored the Sunni minority in power in the majority Shia kingdom.

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.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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