A Bahraini court on Wednesday acquitted prominent Shiite opposition figure Khalil Marzooq on charges of inciting terrorism in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.
Marzooq, a former MP for the main Shiite opposition movement Al-Wefaq, was arrested on September 17. He has been out on bail since his trial began on October 24 but prohibited from travelling abroad.
Marzooq was in court for the verdict, along with representatives of the opposition as well as delegates from the embassies of Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
The prosecutor had accused Marzooq of using his position at Al-Wefaq, an authorised political association, to “call for crimes that are considered terror acts under the law,” according to an initial list of charges.
The prosecutor confronted Marzooq with his public speeches in which he allegedly supported the “principles of terror elements… especially the terrorist group named the February 14 Coalition, which he openly supported,” the charge sheet said.
It said Marzooq had raised the flag of the clandestine group at a public rally after it was handed to him by a masked man.
In a statement that followed the verdict, the prosecution said it was reviewing the court decision and “looking into the possibility of appealing it if legally justified.”
Al-Wefaq said Marzooq’s acquittal was “inevitable” because the case against him “lacked legal value and was based on falsified information.”
The largest Shiite formation charged that the trial was “political” and demanded the release of all “political prisoners.”
The United States welcomed the ruling, with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf calling it an “important step towards fostering a spirit of consensus building and compromise, necessary conditions for the success of the dialogue and reconciliation process.”
“We urge all parties in Bahrain to renounce violence and redouble their efforts to reach an agreement that will lead to full participation in upcoming elections and the formation of an inclusive government,” Harf said.
Marzooq was deputy speaker in the 40-member parliament of the monarchy ruled by the Sunni minority, before 18 MPs from the influential Al-Wefaq walked out in February 2011 in protest over violence against demonstrators.
Shiite-led protests erupted on February 14, 2011 in Bahrain, taking their cue from Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the region and demanding democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy.
Security forces boosted by Saudi-led troops ended the protests a month later, but smaller demonstrations frequently take place in Shiite villages, triggering clashes with police.
Bahrain, a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran, is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty.