Manama (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A court in Bahrain sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main opposition party in the Arab country, to four years in prison for "incitement to revolt", in the context of a growing government crackdown on dissent and critical voices.
The ruling came yesterday and could trigger a new wave of protests in the kingdom, ruled by a Sunni monarchy against a Shiite majority population. He was arrested last December after some public meetings where called for political reforms.
Salman, 49, a leader of the al-Wefaq, is perhaps the most influential figure in Bahrain to finish in custody since the beginning of anti-government protests of 2011, in connection with the riots related to the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa.
In the statement announcing the sentence for "inciting public hatred, an act that has disturbed the peace and order", as well as having "incited to revolt, ignored Law and outraged public institutions" the name of the political leader is not even mentioned.
In response to the verdict, the al-Wefaq leaders pointed out that there is now "more legitimacy" to mobilize and protest. "The people have no other choice - continue the opposition movement – than to continue its peaceful activities and popular" protest.
During the trial in the courtroom Salman - cleared of more serious charges, including attempting to overthrow the established order - has strongly rejected any wrongdoing and branded the trial as an attempt to muzzle dissent.
In recent days human rights activists and movements have clamored for the release of opposition leader, whom they described as a "prisoner of conscience" and declared the trial as devoid of legitimacy. The government rejects the criticism and talks of verdict as law, not to political events or internal power struggles in the country.
Bahrain, an ally of Washington and supported by Riyadh, has been in the grips of ongoing protests since early 2011, when the first riots of the Arab Spring began to cross many North African and Middle Eastern countries. The majority Shia are the engine of dissent, demanding more freedom and recognition from elite government (of Sunni Islam).
However, the authorities - with the help of Riyadh’s military - have violently suppressed the protest and also the subsequent attempts at "national dialogue" have ended in a stalemate.