Bahrain: Al-Wefaq Head Banned from Travel after Arrest
After his arrest late last week, al-Wefaq Secretary General Ali Salman has been banned from traveling outside Bahrain after being charged with “”incitement to religious hatred and spreading false news likely to harm national security.” The charges stemmed from a sermon delivered by Salman that allegedly “contained sectarian language to incite hatred,” according to the Bahraini government. A government press release said the “sectarian-tainted sermon fueled acts of rioting, violence and sabotage across Bahrain, which left several on-duty policemen injured.” A translation of the sermon can be found here.
Al-Wefaq said Salman was arrested after a “series of illegal measures,” and called the targeting of its Secretary General “a political decision to further tighten restriction on freedom of expression and opinion.” Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition society, released a statement saying the regime is “working to dissolve remaining dissent and besiege the opposition,” and demanded a lift on Salman’s travel ban.
Analyst Justin Gengler offers some possible explanations about why the government targeted Salman, including a possible sign of concessions to security-minded Sunni Bahrainis; a political distraction from an upcoming political debate over the reduction of subsidies; an effort to prevent Salman to meet with foreign governments in an upcoming international tour; or putting al-Wefaq in a position to “take responsibility, and [be] held responsible, for actions even of those activists nominally outside its control.” Elliott Abrams writes, “Respect for the King will not be created by new laws demanding respect for the King, but by actions he takes to solve Bahrain’s crisis and respect the rights of all citizens.”
Meanwhile, a Bahraini court acquitted two police officers, including a Bahraini princess, being tried for torturing doctors while in detention. Finally, Bahraini Prime Minster Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa said, “We will never allow Bahrain to be dragged into sectarian sedition and divide, as some sides would have desired.”