January 1, 2015 / 8:24 AM / in 3 years

U.S. concerned over detention of Bahraini opposition leader

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department has expressed deep concern over the detention of Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, warning that the arrest could lead to more tensions in the island kingdom.

Bahrain's main opposition party Al Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman speaks to Reuters at the party's headquarters in Bilad Al Qadeem, west of Manama, October 28, 2014. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Sheikh Salman, head of the al-Wefaq Islamic Society, was arrested on Sunday after leading a protest rally against elections in November which his party boycotted. He was remanded in custody for a further week on Tuesday.

“Opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are concerned that this action against a senior leader of the opposition will only inflame tensions,” it said.  

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva earlier said it was concerned that a potentially lengthy prison sentence could be handed to Sheikh Salman.

A statement issued by Bahrain’s Public Prosecution on Thursday said Sheikh Salman was being interrogated on charges that include spreading ideas to defy the regime and authorities.

It said he had been confronted by recordings of a speech he gave to the general conference of the Wefaq party and a television interview in which he said that the opposition in Bahrain had received offers to emulate the Syrian opposition and take up arms, which it had refused.

He is still being questioned in the presence of lawyers and the public prosecution has allowed family members to visit him in detention, the statement said.

Bahrain, whose government has close relations with the United States and Britain, has been gripped by tension since 2011 protests led by majority Shi‘ite Muslims demanding reforms and a bigger role in running the Sunni-led country.

Al-Wefaq did not take part in the November poll, saying that parliament would not have enough power and that voting districts favored the kingdom’s Sunni Muslims.

Separately, a Bahraini court on Wednesday sentenced prominent human rights activist Mohammed al-Maskati to six months in jail on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering in 2012, his lawyer said. Bahraini officials could not be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Farishta Saeed in Manama; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Ryan Woo and Dominic Evans

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