Bahraini demonstrators have staged a fresh anti-regime protest in the tiny Persian Gulf country to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, especially prominent opposition figure Sheikh Ali Salman.
The protesters, holding portraits of Salman, rallied in the northwestern village of Diraz, 12 kilometers (7 miles) southeast of the capital Manama, after Friday prayers, condemning the regime for his continued detention. They also voiced their strong determination to press ahead with peaceful protests for the fulfillment of their democratic demands.
Demonstrators were also furious over a Monday court of appeal ruling that more than doubled Salman’s jail term to nine years for allegedly inciting violence and calling for anti-regime demonstrations. They said the move was proof of ongoing political repression in Bahrain and part of the government’s heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.
Sheikh Salman, the secretary general of Bahrain’s main opposition bloc, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, was arrested in December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Manama regime and collaborating with foreign powers. He denies the allegations, saying he has been seeking reforms in the country through peaceful means. A Bahraini court, however, sentenced him to four years in prison in June 2015.
Human Rights Watch also denounced the recent court ruling on Thursday, saying there was “strong evidence” that the cleric’s initial trial was “unfair” and some charges leveled against him violated the right to free speech.
Since February 14, 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous rallies on an almost daily basis in Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa family to relinquish power. In March that year, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protests.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the crackdowns.
Amnesty International and many other international rights organizations have frequently censured the Bahraini regime over the “rampant” human rights abuses against opposition activists and anti-regime protesters.