DUBAI, Oct 18 – A Bahraini court has overturned a 9-year prison term imposed on the country’s most prominent opposition leader, in a ruling that could lower political tensions in the Gulf kingdom.
In a public hearing on Monday, Bahrain’s court of cassation ordered a retrial of Sheikh Ali Salman, chief of the al-Wefaq Islamic Society, according to Salman’s wife, Alya Radhi.
Salman, who remains in custody, was convicted in May of “crimes of promoting change to the political system by force” as part of a crackdown on Shi’ite Muslim activists and clerics in the Sunni-ruled island nation.
No date or reason was given for Salman’s retrial, according to Radhi, although the United States – a key ally of the tiny Gulf kingdom – has expressed concern about the treatment of opposition figures in Bahrain.
In June, Wefaq itself was shuttered by a court order and Bahrain’s foremost Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim was convicted of money-laundering and stripped of his citizenship.
Bahraini Shi’ites complain of discrimination by the government.
Since the authorities crushed Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, demonstrators have clashed frequently with security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks.
Bahraini authorities deny any discrimination and accuse the opposition of undermining security.
A Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Salman was arrested in December in a case that angered his followers and stirred unrest in the island kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and has a Shi’ite majority.
Salman was sentenced last June to four years in prison for inciting unrest. In his appeal last month, his defence lawyers appealed said prosecutors had presented as evidence excerpts of his speeches that were taken out of context.
Prosecutors responded with their own appeal, asking the court to reverse Salman’s earlier acquittal on more serious charges of seeking to overthrow the political system by force.