x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Deputy leader of Al Wefaq is accused of "inciting and promoting terrorist acts"

ABU DHABI // Bahrain’s opposition suspended participation in reconciliation talks with the government and other political groups yesterday after the second-highest ranking member of the Shiite political group Al Wefaq was arrested.

Khalil Al Marzouq will remain in prison for 30 days while he is being investigated for inciting anti-government violence, the public prosecutor’s office said yesterday.

The arrest comes just days after several new regulations were imposed on political groups, including restrictions on contact with foreign diplomats and organisations.

“In the light of all these violations … [the opposition] has decided to suspend its participation in the national dialogue,” five opposition groups said in a statement yesterday, referring talks between all the major political forces in Bahrain aimed at calming tensions on the island.

Police allege that Mr Marzouq, who was arrested on Tuesday, supported the 14 February Coalition, a youth opposition movement that the government considers a terror organisation.

Mr Marzouq is accused of “inciting and promoting terrorist acts, advocating principles which incite such acts, supporting violence committed by the terrorist coalition, and legally justifying criminal activities”, the prosecutor’s statement said.

The investigation will focus on a speech Mr Marzouq gave on September 6, during which he allegedly raised the flag of the 14 February Coalition, the statement said.

Mr Marzouq was “charged under the Law for Protecting the Community from Terrorist Acts, with inciting and advocating terrorism, and using his leadership position in a legally organised political society to incite crimes,” public prosecutor Nayef Yousif said.

The 14 February Coalition emerged after anti-government protests flared on the island in 2011. Thousands of mostly Shiite opposition demonstrators took to the streets calling for greater political and economic inclusion.

Small-scale protests still take place almost daily in Shiite villages outside the capital. And the coalition routinely encourages members to resist the security forces by blocking roads with burning tyres.

But the official political opposition, led by Mr Marzouq’s political society Al Wefaq, has denounced the use of violence and repeatedly called for peaceful civil disobedience.

Al Wefaq called Mr Marzouq’s arrest a “serious and dangerous escalation taken by the regime in Bahrain”. At a news conference yesterday, the group of six opposition groups said it would organise demonstrations tomorrow.

A UK-educated IT manager, Mr Marzouq has often been a public face of the opposition as its international spokesman.

In 2011, he led the opposition’s delegation to a national dialogue aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis.

The negotiations were reopened in February this year, but they stumbled amid growing street violence and the arrest of opposition activists.

With the withdrawal of the opposition, the dialogue’s future is now uncertain.

Also yesterday, Bahrain’s head of public security, Maj Gen Tariq Hassan Al Hassan, said a policeman injured in an August 17 bombing had died.

Amer Abdulkhalid “succumbed to his wounds” while in hospital, Mr Al Hassan said.

Bahrain’s government yesterday denied media reports that Mr Marzooq had been detained for political activities.

edickinson@thenational.ae