Retrial of Bahrain opposition leader opens

Retrial of Bahrain opposition leader opens
The leader of Bahrain's main opposition group began his retrial on Sunday after he was accused with inciting hatred and calling for regime change.
2 min read
06 November, 2016
Sheikh Ali Salman is the head of Bahrain's main opposition [AFP]
The leader of Bahrain's main opposition movement began a retrial on Sunday, after he was jailed for nine years for inciting hatred and calling for regime change.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the now-banned al-Wefaq group, attended the hearing in Manama but refused to answer the judge's questions, a judicial source said.

His lawyers spoke in his defence, insisting that Salman was innocent, the source added.

A verdict would be announced on 4 December, Advocate General Haroun al-Zayani said in a statement carried by the official Bahrain News Agency.

Salman, behind bars since December 2014, was sentenced in July last year to four years in prison after being convicted of inciting hatred in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom - a decision that was vehemently rejected by al-Wefaq.

But in May the appeals court more than doubled his jail term to nine years after reversing an earlier acquittal on charges of calling for regime change by force.

However, on 17 October, Bahrain's cassation court overturned the nine-year jail sentence and ordered a retrial. 

Al-Wefaq was the largest group in parliament before its lawmakers resigned en masse in protest at the crushing of Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in 2011 calling for an elected government.

The group has called for Bahrain to become a constitutional monarchy.

In June, the authorities stripped Shia spiritual leader Sheikh Issa Qassem, 75, of his nationality for "encouraging sectarianism and violence" and serving "foreign interests" - an allusion to Iran.

Supported by Saudi Arabia, Manama regularly accuses Iran's Shia regime of interfering in its affairs - something Tehran strongly denies.

The same court rejected a request to release the cleric.

In July, a court ordered al-Wefaq's dissolution for "harbouring terrorism", inciting violence and encouraging demonstrations which threatened to spark sectarian strife.

The decision drew strong criticism from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Bahrain's allies in Washington and London, as well as Iran.

The move comes as UK royal Prince Charles is due to visit the island kingdom during a seven day tour of the Gulf where he is due to visit a British naval base.

Bahrain describes it as a "support facility" amid sensitivies of the hundreds of British servicemen and women who will be stationed on the island.

It comes amid appeals from human rights groups to address the issues of opposition suppression in Gulf states.