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Mon 19 Jan 2015 02:10 PM

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Rights group urges release of Bahrain opposition leader

Human Rights Watch claims there is 'no evidence' to justify detention of Al Wefaq's Sheikh Ali Salman

Rights group urges release of Bahrain opposition leader
Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of al-Wefaq Islamic Society. (Getty Images)

An international rights group has urged Bahrain to immediately release from detention the head of the country’s leading political opposition group.

US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that authorities in Bahrain had "failed to present any evidence that justifies his detention".

Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of Al Wefaq has been in detention since his arrest on December 29, and has been charged with various criminal offences, which include the promotion of violence and defamation of a “statutory body".

Human Rights Watch claimed authorities have not made public which comments led to his arrest and prosecution and they have not brought Salman before a judge to present evidence that supports the charge that he has promoted violence.

“When it comes to punishing peaceful critics of the government or ruling family, Bahrain is a serial offender,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

“The arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman seems calculated to send a message to Bahrainis and the world that political reconciliation and respect for fundamental rights is completely off the table.”

On Saturday, around 150 protesters clashed with Bahraini security forces in the capital Manama on Friday during demonstrations over the detention of Salman, it was reported.

Western-allied Bahrain has been wracked by tensions since the authorities put down protests in 2011, with Bahrain's majority Shi'ite Muslims demanding reforms and a bigger say in the running of the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The discontent has worsened since the arrest of Salman last month.

On January 5, Bahrain’s public prosecutor announced that authorities would detain Salman for a further 15 days, pending conclusion of the investigation.

The rights group claimed Bahraini authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned numerous others solely on the basis of their criticism of the authorities.

"Since the Bahraini authorities have produced no such evidence despite the fact that all the speeches that Sheikh Salman has given in the last three years are recorded and are in the public domain, they should release Salman immediately, and if none can be produced, drop the charges against him," Human Rights Watch said in its statement.

“Bahrain’s allies in London, Paris, and elsewhere have largely stayed silent as Bahrain has filled its jails with the people who hold the key to the political solution the UK and US claim to support,” Stork said.

“Who will Bahrain have to detain and on what nonsensical charges before Bahrain’s allies speak out?”