x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Military prosecutor charges 21 with attempt to overthrow Bahrain monarchy

Those charged include Shiite opposition leaders such as Hassan Mushaima, the leader of Al Haq movement, and some of its senior members , including Abdul Jalil al Sangaece.

MANAMA // Bahrain's military prosecutor accused 21 political activists yesterday of seeking to overthrow the monarchy with the help of a foreign terrorist group, an apparent reference to Iranian-backed militants, in a widening crackdown on an uprising by the nation's Shiite majority.

The charges are part of fast-moving efforts by Bahrain's authorities to prosecute opposition leaders and others after months of clashes and protests in the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Bahrain's king has ordered the lifting on June 1 of a state of emergency that was imposed after weeks of protests, the state news agency said yesterday.

Last month, a special security court set up under martial law sentenced four people to death for killing two policemen.

The latest cases were tried by the same court, according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency. Among those charged yesterday are opposition leaders such as Hassan Mushaima, the leader of Al Haq movement, and some of its senior members including Abdul Jalil al Sangaece.

Mr Mushaima and Mr al-Sangaece were among the first political leaders taken into custody after emergency rule was declared in March to quell weeks of anti-government protests that began February 14 and were inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

The two men were among 25 Shiite activists on trial last year on charges of trying to overthrow the nation's Sunni rulers.

The case was dropped in March to calm tensions in the kingdom, and Mr Mushaima, who was tried in absentia, returned from a self-imposed exile in London to support the uprising.

Fourteen members of the group charged yesterday are in custody. The others are charged in absentia.

The allegations include seeking to topple the 200-year-old Sunni monarchy and having links to "a terrorist organisation abroad working for a foreign country." No additional details were made public, but Bahrain's leaders have claimed that the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hizbollah in Lebanon has sought to make inroads in Bahrain with the protests.

Bahrain also is locked in a deepening quarrel with Iran, which has sharply criticised the arrests and the dispatch of a 1,500-strong Saudi-led force in March to prop up the monarchy.

Shiites have long been demanding a greater political voice and rights, equal to those of the Sunni members of the nation. Shiites comprise about 70 per cent of Bahrain's population, but are excluded from top government and security posts.

Abdulhadi al Khawaja, the kingdom's leading human rights activist, is also among those charged yesterday. Mr Al Khawaja was beaten unconscious by police before being taken from his house in the outskirts of Manama along with his two sons-in-law last month, according to relatives who witnessed the raid.

Mr Al Khawaja is the former Middle East and North Africa director of Frontline Defenders, a rights organisation. He also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.