Bahrain upholds nine-year jail sentence against opposition chief

Sheikh Ali Salman

MANAMA - Bahrain's appeals court on Monday upheld a nine-year jail sentence against Shiite opposition chief Sheikh Ali Salman for inciting hatred and calling for regime change by force, a judicial source said.
The verdict against Salman, whose Al-Wefaq movement was dissolved in July, was reimposed after the court of cassation had overturned the nine-year jail term in October.
Salman, 51, is considered a moderate who has pushed for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, unlike hardline groups who have demanded the toppling the Al-Khalifa dynasty
His arrest in December 2014 had sparked protests in Shiite-majority Bahrain.
The Shiite cleric was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in jail after being convicted of inciting hatred in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.
But the appeals court in May more than doubled his jail term to nine years after reversing an earlier acquittal on charges of calling for regime change by force.
The court of cassation overturned that sentence on October 17 and ordered a retrial before the appeals court.
It also rejected a request to release the cleric.
In July, a court ordered Al-Wefaq's dissolution for "harbouring terrorism", inciting violence and encouraging demonstrations which threatened to spark sectarian strife.
The decision drew strong criticism from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Bahrain's allies in Washington and London, and Shiite-dominated Iran.
Al-Wefaq had the largest bloc in parliament before lawmakers walked out in February 2011 in protest over a deadly crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests.
Salman was widely considered one of the leaders of the uprising and he was arrested several times by the authorities.
Bahrain has harshly cracked down over the past five years on dissent by the Shiite majority, which they accuse of being manipulated by Iran.
The number of arrests and trials have spiralled.
The kingdom stripped 31 Shiite activists of their nationality in October 2012 for breaching state security, and Human Rights Watch says most of them have been left stateless.
It has repeatedly arrested and detained other opposition leaders, including Nabil Rajab, the founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
Rajab was most recently arrested on June 13 for comments on his Twitter account that criticised Bahrain's participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen, according to HRW.
The New York-based rights watchdog on Monday issued a statement calling for Rajab's immediate release, saying the charges against him "inherently violate the right to free expression".