Bahrain to drop 343 free-speech cases after protests

Other cases involving crimes of violence and sabotage to remain pending, lawyer says
Bahrain to drop 343 free-speech cases after protests
A Bahraini woman covering her head with a national flag takes part in a demonstration (AFP/Getty Images)
By Reuters
Sun 25 Dec 2011 10:34 AM

Bahrain said on Saturday it would drop charges against 343 people whose offences were linked to free speech, but the opposition said that was just a portion of those detained on such accusations during pro-democracy protests this year.

The Gulf kingdom, under pressure to improve its rights record to secure a US arms deal, has said it would follow the recommendations of a state-appointed commission which found evidence of widespread abuse in the crackdown against the protests.

The measure, part of a review of action by military courts set up after Bahrain announced martial law in March, applies to 43 cases and 343 defendants, public prosecutor Ali Al Buainain told the state news agency BNA.

"However, other cases will remain pending because they involve crimes of violence and sabotage against people and property," Buainain said.

An official at the largest Shi'ite opposition group, Wefaq, said about 85 percent of the cases it studied were linked to freedom of speech and assembly.

"Of the 1,200 cases we have reported about, 1,000 include charges such as illegal assembly, spreading false news and spreading hatered of the regime," Matar Matar, a former parliament member for Wefaq, said.

Matar also said the measure should allow those charged to seek compensation.

"These people were imprisoned and there was no justification for what happened to them. So there should be compensation and an investigation of those responsible," Matar said by telephone.

Bahrain is important to Western interests in the Middle East because it hosts the US Fifth Fleet and faces Shi'ite giant Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Iran has denied Bahraini government accusations that it had incited the protests.

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