DUBAI, June 21 (Reuters) – A Bahraini court on Thursday acquitted three senior leaders of the country’s main opposition group of spying for Qatar, a rare win for opposition figures who say they have been targeted by prosecutors for their political views.
In November, the public prosecutor accused Sheikh Ali Salman, opposition al-Wefaq group secretary general, and Sheikh Hassan Sultan, a former member of the Bahraini parliament for al-Wefaq, of conspiring with Qatari officials to carry out “hostile acts” in the kingdom.
The High Criminal Court acquitted them along with a third senior al-Wefaq member, Ali Alaswad, said Public Prosecutor Osama al-Oufi, cited by the state BNA news agency.
In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman welcomed the verdict and called for Salman’s release.
“Today’s acquittal removes a potential barrier to political reconciliation in Bahrain, and we urge Bahraini prosecutors not to pursue an appeal of the judge’s ruling,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a news briefing.
Alaswad is a former member of Bahrain’s parliament for al-Wefaq who resigned in response to the crackdown against the kingdom’s opposition. He has lived in London since 2011.
Bahrain has frequently accused Iran of fomenting unrest. Along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, it broke diplomatic and trade ties last year with Qatar, which those countries accuse of harbouring terrorists and cosying up to Iran. Doha denies the charges.