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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Bahrain TV accuses Qatar of role in 2011 protests

Bahrain Television aired a report, which claimed Qatar backed anti-government protests that shook the kingdom during the Arab Spring, six years ago

The Bahrain TV report said Qatar's former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, contacted Ali Salman - seen above in images carried by his supporters - and asked him to urge protesters to flood the streets and ramp up pressure on the state. Mohammed Al Shaikh / AFP
The Bahrain TV report said Qatar's former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, contacted Ali Salman - seen above in images carried by his supporters - and asked him to urge protesters to flood the streets and ramp up pressure on the state. Mohammed Al Shaikh / AFP

Bahrain's state television on Wednesday accused Qatar of helping instigate anti-government protests, further deepening a diplomatic crisis in which Manama cut diplomatic ties with Doha.

Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, Bahrain moved to isolate Qatar in June over accusations that the country supports Islamist extremism and is meddling in the domestic affairs of its neighbours.

Bahrain Television aired a report, which claimed Qatar backed anti-government protests that shook the kingdom during the Arab Spring, six years ago.

The report said Qatar's former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, in 2011 had contacted Ali Salman — then head of Bahrain's largest opposition group, Al Wefaq — and asked him to urge protesters to flood the streets and ramp up pressure on the state.

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In the calls, Sheikh Hamad and Salman had agreed to "work together to escalate unrest so as to harm the interests of the nation and undermine its stability, which are tantamount to the crime of communicating with a foreign state with the intention of harming national interests," the report said

In the conversation, Sheikh Hamad told Salman that “we don’t want anything to happen by force, and that is our main aim, please trust us, you know that we are always honest with you.”

Salman replies saying that the violence is undermining their desire for dialogue and is finding a difficult time dealing with the presence of the military quashing the rebellion.

Sheikh Hamad replies saying: “This is going to stop, and I spoke about this, by the way, and I discussed what kind of escalation,” according to the report.

A court order, carried by the Bahraini state news agency, said attorney general Ali Al Bouainen had launched an investigation into a series of phone calls.

The quartet of Arab countries boycotting Qatar has accused Doha of interfering in other country’s affairs by looking to fund the opposition in a bid to destabilise the region.

The 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain, which were led by the kingdom’s Shiite majority, started in February and were suppressed in March by the security forces. Saudi troops and Emirati police were called in to help provide security.

Small protests and clashes continues in the months after and Bahrain accused Iran of trying to stoke the tensions.

The last year has seen a crackdown on opposition groups. A 2016 court order dissolved Al Wefaq for "harbouring terrorism". Its leader Salman has been in prison since 2014.

Bahrain also has a history of territorial disputes over Gulf islands and reefs with Qatar.

Accusations that Qatar was in contact with the opposition at the time and allegedly encouraging the protests will stoke tensions in the current Qatar crisis.

The boycott, which started in June, has cut diplomatic, trade and travel ties between the four countries and Qatar.

The quartet have issued 13 demands that Qatar must accept before a resolution to the crisis can be found. Those demands include ending interference in the affairs of other states and closing down Al Jazeera over the platform it provides for extremist groups and figures and the support it gives opposition groups in the Gulf.

The director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Mostefa Souag, told BBC’s Hardtalk, which aired on Wednesday, that “Al Jazeera is not for negotiation.”

Host Stephen Sackur brought up the example of Gregg Carlstrom, a former Al Jazeera employee, and quoted him saying “there was as still is a vast gulf between Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English.”

Meanwhile, India’s intelligence unit, the National Investigation Agency, said a large Qatari donation supposedly made to a charity in Kerala has been distrusted to agencies with terrorist links, according to the Malayalam language Mathrubhumi newspaper.

The Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday visited Kuwait, where the emir, Sheikh Sabah, has been leading mediation efforts to end the dispute.