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Mon 8 Aug 2011 08:11 AM

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Bahrain frees detainees including ex-MPs after unrest

Politicians were charged with spreading false news and joining illegal gatherings

Bahrain frees detainees including ex-MPs after unrest
Two former politicians have been freed, despite being charged with joining illegal gatherings

Bahrain has released a group of detainees, including two
former members of parliament, charged over anti-government protests in the Gulf
state earlier this year, opposition sources and state media said on Sunday.

Those released included Jawad Fairouz and Matar Ibrahim
Matar, former MPs from the Sunni-ruled kingdom's largest Shi'ite opposition
group Al-Wefaq, a member of the bloc said.

"I saw them and embraced them," said Al-Wefaq
member Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi. The bloc's MPs quit parliament after Bahrain
called in troops from fellow Sunni-led kingdoms to help crush the Shi'ite-led
protests in February and March.

Bahrain has sentenced eight opposition members to life
imprisonment over the protests, which demanded an end to the discrimination
which Bahraini Shi'ites say they face, and called for a constitutional
monarchy. A few Shi'ite groups sought the monarchy's abolition.

Bahrain's state news agency quoted the public prosecutor on
Sunday as saying a decision had been taken to release some detainees whose
cases were transferred from a military tribunal to civilian courts for review.

It referred to the MPs, who pleaded not guilty last month to
spreading false news and joining illegal gatherings, as well as to previous
releases of defendants who had been detained for a period equivalent to
possible jail sentences.

It did not specify how many cases might continue.

The head of an international lawyers' commission which
Bahrain has asked to investigate the protests, the crackdown and its aftermath said
on Thursday that he expected the release of about 150 detainees.

Over 1,000 people were detained in the crackdown and at
least four of them died in custody.

The commission follows a state-organised "National
Dialogue" over the protests and crackdown in the kingdom, which hosts the
US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

That process proposed last month expanding the powers of the
elected parliament, a move Bahrain's king approved while preserving the
dominance of an upper house picked by his court. Opposition groups denounced
the results as a farce.