Prosecutors on Monday charged Bahrain’s Shiite opposition chief with attempting to overthrow the regime and sent him to trial despite international calls for his release.
Sheikh Ali Salman will stand trial from January 28 on charges of “promoting the overthrow and change of the political regime by force,” prosecutor general Nayef Mahmud said in a statement.
Salman, head of the influential Al-Wefaq bloc, has been in custody since December 28 and his detention has sparked near-daily protests across the Shiite-majority but Sunni-ruled kingdom.
Salman was also charged with inciting disobedience and inciting hatred against a part of the population in public statements.
The prosecutor said Salman had confessed under questioning to making the statements in speeches in which he allegedly referred to meeting with groups abroad who offered to back an armed uprising.
Shiite-dominated Iran has been accused of interfering in Bahrain since its Sunni government crushed protests led by Al-Wefaq in 2011 seeking a constitutional monarchy.
Salman was given “all legal guarantees” such as assistance from a team of lawyers and family visits during his questioning, Mahmud said.
In an emailed statement, Al-Wefaq rejected the accusations against Salman which it described as “unrealistic” after he himself “categorically rejected” them during investigations.
Al-Wefaq described Salman’s trial as “political” and said the authorities had taken out of context his speeches and used them against him.
“There is no real case and no legal or moral excuse to detain or try” Salman, it said.
Salman’s arrest sparked condemnation from Iran, the United States and international rights groups.
Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Bahrain’s Western allies to press the kingdom to release detained activists including Salman.
The New York-based organisation had said the authorities had failed to present any evidence against Salman that would justify his detention.
And Amnesty International said meanwhile that if convicted, it would consider Salman “a prisoner of conscience”.
Washington has expressed concern over Salman’s detention, warning it could inflame persistent violence that has gripped the kingdom, home to the US Fifth Fleet, since 2011.
Al-Wefaq has claimed that a man had died from what it said may have been tear gas inhalation following clashes Saturday between protesters and police in Salman’s village of Bilad al-Qadim.
But the cause of the death of the man identified as Abdulazziz Salman Alsaeed remains unclear, with the authorities remaining silent on it so far.
At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011. Hundreds have also been arrested and put on trial, rights groups say.
Last week, former MP Jamil Kazim, an Al-Wefaq member, was sentenced to six months in jail for a tweet over election bribes, referring to November polls which were boycotted by his movement.
Meanwhile, prominent Shiite activist Nabeel Rajab will stand trial on Tuesday over tweets deemed insulting to public institutions, in an another case that has been criticised by rights groups.