An appeals court in the Gulf country stretched the jail term for Shiite leader Sheikh Ali Salman from four years to nine. Salman was convicted on charges of disturbing the peace and inciting people to disobey the law.
Members of the Shiite opposition movement al Wefaq, of which Salman is a member, condemned the court's verdict, calling it "unpredictable and provocative" and warning that it "entrenches the exacerbating political crisis."
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Ali Salman (pictured above), now 50 years old, was arrested in December 2014 and convicted of "disturbing peace and explicit incitement toward disobeying the law," Bahrain's public prosecutor said at the time. He was also found guilty of "insulting an official body" for his remarks against the country's interior ministry.
His al Wefaq group has been regularly campaigning for more equality for the majority Shiites in the Sunni-ruled country. "The people have always called for citizenship equality… without any discrimination based on ethnicity, color, religion or sect," the organization's clerics said in a statement. They also demanded the right to free elections and to choose their own government.
"This verdict says the ruling family has no interest in dialogue, sharing power or recognizing any views other than its own," US-based NGO Human Rights First said in a statement. "Keeping the leader of the main opposition group in jail does nothing to end Bahrain's political cricis and everything to stoke further instability in the region."
The Shiite group's political standoff with the kingdom's Sunni rulers peaked in 2011, when mostly Shiite demonstrators, inspired by the Arab uprisings, demanded free elections.
The protests were suppressed soon after by Bahraini officials, helped by troops from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both Sunni majority countries. At least 89 people died in the government operation and hundreds were arrested and tried for their involvement.
Al Wefaq's 18 members of parliament resigned soon after to protest the lethal crackdown. Since then, efforts between the opposition and Bahrain's ruler, King Hamad, have repeatedly failed.
Bahrain is a small island in the Persian Gulf and is connected to the Saudi Arabian mainland by a causeway. The country is a crucial ally of Washington in the region, hosting the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.
mg/msh (AFP, Reuters)