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article imageBahrain opposition leader acquitted in Qatar spy case: activists

By AFP     Jun 21, 2018 in World

A Bahraini court acquitted the head of the Shiite opposition of all charges Thursday in his trial for alleged spying for regional rival Qatar, a judicial source and activists said.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Bahrain's largest -- and now banned -- Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq -- was found not guilty along with two of his aides, who were tried in absentia, a judicial source said on condition of anonymity.

Groups including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, confirmed his aquittal.

"Sheikh Ali Salman was found innocent," Sheikh Maytham al-Salman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told AFP. "We hope this ruling opens the way for dialogue and reconciliation."

Sheikh Ali has been behind bars since 2014 serving a four-year jail sentence on charges of inciting hatred.

In November, he pleaded not guilty to new charges of communicating with a foreign state to commit acts hostile to the state of Bahrain -- specifically Qatar.

The charges came after Bahrain and its Gulf allies cut ties with Qatar last June alleging that it supported Islamist extremist groups and was too close to Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain has a Shiite majority but it is ruled by a Sunni royal family that holds all top goverment posts.

It has been gripped by civil unrest since 2011 when authorties bloodily crushed protests calling for a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Both religious and secular opposition groups have since been banned and dozens of high-profile clerics and activists thrown behind bars.

The government accuses Shiite-ruled Iran, just across the Gulf from Bahrain, of fanning the protests in a bid to overthrow it.

Iran says it is merely critising the repression of peaceful protests led by its co-religionists, as Bahrain's Western allies have also done.

Al-Wefaq, headed by Ali Salman, was the largest bloc in parliament before the 2011 protests. When they were crushed, all its members resigned their seats.

The group was dissolved by court order in 2016.

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