Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman has been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of allegedly plotting against the ruling system, his Al Wefaq party said on Monday.
“The regime is pushing toward aggravation and issued a sentence of four years for the Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman,” the party wrote on its official twitter account.
Bahraini Shiite Muslims marched a few days before Salman was sentenced in support of the prominent leader, who has been in custody since he was detained in December 28, 2014.
The arrest of Salman, a 49-year-old cleric, prompted protests by Shiite Bahrainis in villages all over the kingdom, which is ruled by a Sunni monarch.
Salman, the leader of the Wefaq opposition movement, was accused on January of “promoting the overthrow and change of the political regime by force,” but the court dropped that accusation on Wednesday.
As one of the most prominent opposition movements in Bahrain, the Wefaq movement announced that it will hold a press conference on Monday afternoon. They accuse the Bahraini authorities of “escalation” after they sentenced opposition leader Salman.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Manama to immediately release Salman and drop the accusations against him, stating the the government had “failed” to provide evidence against him.
“When it comes to punishing peaceful critics of the government or ruling family, Bahrain is a serial offender,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa.
Stork said that Salman’s arrest “seems calculated to send a message to Bahrainis and the world that political reconciliation and respect for fundamental rights are completely off the table.”
“Bahrain’s allies in London, Paris and elsewhere have largely stayed silent as Bahrain has filled its jails with the people who hold the key to the political solution the UK and US claim to support,” he said.
“Who will Bahrain have to detain and on what nonsensical charges before Bahrain’s allies speak out?”
The US issued a warning that Salman’s arrest could “inflame tensions,” the Guardian reported.
Bahrain was a British colony until 1971 when it declared independence as the State of Bahrain, before officially becoming the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2002.
The Kingdom is currently home to the US Fifth fleet as well the British Royal Navy which is building a permanent base there.
In 2011, protests by the country’s majority Shiite Muslim population were waged in Bahrain calling for more freedoms in the country and demanding a constitutional monarchy and more representative government.
The Bahraini government - backed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia - managed to suppress the protests quickly, even though clashes between security forces and protesters still occur on a weekly basis.