SHAFAQNA- The head of the Bahrain’s main opposition group was remanded in custody for a further 15 days on Monday in a move that could further inflame sectarian tensions in the oil-rich kingdom.
Sheikh Ali Salman, head of al-Wefaq opposition movement, was arrested on December 28, a day after he, among other figures, led a peaceful rally near the capital Manama staged to protest against November’s general elections, which the opposition boycotted, and call for the dismissal of both the parliament and the government.
“The secretary general of a political society shall be detained for 15 more days pending investigation,” said the official Twitter account of Bahrain’s Public Prosecution. It did not name Salman
Salman has already been in custody for eight days, as it was announced December 30 that his arrest was extended for one week “pending an investigation into charges.”
Prosecutor Nayef Mahmoud said in a statement last week that Salman was accused of “insulting the judiciary and the executive branch,” of “sectarian incitement,” of “spreading false news likely to cause panic and undermine security” and “participation in events detrimental to the economy.”
Al-Wefaq swiftly denounced his detention, saying it “entrenches the tyrannical rule in Bahrain and closes all doors for a political solution.”
In a statement, al-Wefaq described Salman’s detention as “a dangerous and miscalculated adventure that complicates the political and security scene in Bahrain.”
The soft-spoken Salman, 49, is considered a moderate who has pushed for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain unlike hardline groups who have demanded the toppling the al-Khalifa dynasty.
“We want a constitutional monarchy where the al-Khalifas would be the monarchs,” Salman told AFP in May 2011, shortly after Bahrain’s deadly crackdown on month-long protests.
“We said: The people want to reform the regime. We did not raise the slogan of toppling the regime,” said the advocate of peaceful protests.
Countries worldwide denounced Salman’s arrest and over 37 international human rights organizations demanded in a statement the immediate and unconditional release of Salman following his arrest.
Sheikh Salman “is known to be a political and national figure that has always called for dialogue and peaceful procedures as clearly stated in The Non-Violence Principles Declaration.
He also calls for the peaceful transfer of power according to what international treaties stipulate,” the statement read.
Human rights organizations said Salman’s arrest was a confiscation of “the right to freedom of expression and violating the right to freedom of association.”
Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters have been clashing with forces loyal to the Bahraini regime since the arrest.
Some youth have been arrested while others sustained injuries as Bahraini forces continue to use excessive measures to disperse protests across the kingdom.
“Dozens of people… including women and children, were arrested,” said a statement from the Bahrain Observatory for Human Rights.
With Saudi Arabia’s help, Bahrain, a country ruled by the al-Khalifa family for over 200 years, crushed peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began on February 14, 2011.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.
At least 89 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since the uprising erupted.
“The royal family retains all powers — executive, legislative and judicial, in addition to security, information and wealth,” Salman said in October.
Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by al-Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.
Early December, a Bahrain court sentenced Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of prominent rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, to three years in prison for “insulting the king” by tearing up a photograph of him.
A couple of days earlier, Zainab’s sister Maryam, who is also a prominent rights activist, was sentenced in absentia to one year in jail for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
Bryan Dooley, head of Human Rights Defenders Program at the US-based Human Rights First, described Maryam’s sentence as a “powerful warning to human rights activists who criticize the regime.”
Moreover, Nabeel Rajab, director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and co-founder of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), went on trial late October over remarks published on his Twitter account that were critical of state institutions.
BCHR blamed the arrest of Salman on the UK, which recently announced it will open a new military base in Bahrain, in an act that Rajab had described as a “reward” for silence on rights abuses in the kingdom.