Protesters hold banners with photos of opposition leader and secretary general of the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society Sheikh Ali Salman during a protest after Friday prayers in the village of Diraz, Bahrain, on May 13, 2016. (Reuters)
An international human rights organization has called on the US
administration to press the Bahraini regime over the immediate release of Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of Bahrain’s main opposition bloc, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.
“The Bahraini authorities have a chance on Monday to reverse Sheikh Salman’s alarming conviction. His imprisonment contradicts promises of reform and makes an inclusive political settlement unlikely,” Brian Dooley, the director of Human Rights Defenders program at the US-based Human Rights First, said on Friday.
He added, “If the US government is serious about helping Bahrain escape its political crisis, it should publicly call for his immediate release so he can be part of a much-needed dialogue with the government.”
On Thursday evening, clashes broke out between Bahraini regime forces and dozens of demonstrators in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of the Bahraini capital, Manama, during a protest against the continued imprisonment of Sheikh Salman.
Regime forces fired shots and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The protesters responded by throwing petrol bombs at police. Two officers were reportedly injured.
Earlier in the day, a similar demonstration was held in the village of Buri, located about 13 kilometers (eight miles) southwest of Manama, where participants demanded the unconditional freedom of the prominent Bahraini opposition leader.
Sheikh Salman was arrested in December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Manama regime and collaborating with foreign powers. He denies the charges, saying he has been seeking reforms in the kingdom through peaceful means.
In June 2015, a Bahraini court sentenced him to four years in prison on charges such as insulting the Bahraini Interior Ministry and inciting others to break the law. He was acquitted of seeking regime change.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has repeatedly called on the Manama regime to release the al-Wefaq leader.
Since February 14, 2011, anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on an almost daily basis in Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifah family to relinquish power.
In March that year, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to the country to assist the Bahraini regime in its crackdown on the peaceful protests.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the crackdown.