MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The head of Bahrain’s main opposition group was charged Sunday with insulting authorities through an exhibition that showed alleged abuses against anti-government protesters, a lawyer said, in a move that could sharply raise tensions in the violence-wracked Gulf nation.
The charges against Ali Salman, the head of the Shiite bloc Al Wefaq, came just hours after a court sentenced four suspects to life in prison for alleged ties to Shiite militant factions and acting as spies for Iran. Bahrain accuses Iran of aiding the 32-month uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites against the ruling Sunni dynasty.
Iran denies the accusations and no firm evidence has been produced. But the claims by Bahrain’s Western-backed leading have been echoed by other Gulf Arab nations that fear Iran seeks to destabilize their networks of ruling clans.
More than 65 people have been killed in Bahrain’s Arab Spring-inspired protests seeking a greater political voice for Shiites on the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Some rights groups place the overall death toll higher.
It’s unclear whether Salman will face trial, which could touch off wider clashes. Prosecutors have the option of not bringing the case to court.
Al Wefaq’s lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi said Salman was not jailed after being charged and was allowed to return home following questioning. Across the Gulf, courts have issued prison terms as long as 15 years for perceived insults against rulers on social media or other forums.
Riot police last week raided the museum-style hall opened by Al Wefaq that included depictions of alleged torture and attacks against protesters since the uprising began in February 2011. Authorities said the displays incited “hatred” even though most of the scenes had been reported in international media or in a government-backed report on the unrest in late 2011.
Earlier Sunday, a criminal court issued life sentences against four Shiite activists and 15-year prison terms against six others who were charged with links to Iranian intelligence agencies and plotting attacks in Bahrain, lawyer Zainab Zwayed said. Fourteen defendants were cleared.