Bahrain’s chief prosecutor Thursday charged the head of the largest Shiite opposition and his number two with violating a law on foreign contacts after they met a senior US diplomat.
The prosecution said it questioned cleric Ali Salman, the head of Al-Wefaq association, and his political assistant, ex-MP Khalil Marzooq, on their meeting with the US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.
“The public prosecution has charged them with contacting a representative of a foreign government in violation of the law on political associations,” the prosecution said.
Bahrain has said the meeting at the US embassy violated the law stipulating that contacts between political associations and foreign parties “should be coordinated with the foreign ministry and in the presence” of its representative.
The two men have not been taken into custody, the prosecution said in a statement.
On Monday, Manama told Malinowski, who is the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, that he was “unwelcome” and should “leave immediately.”
The foreign ministry said Malinowski had met “with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors,” describing his action as “interference in its (Bahrain’s) internal affairs.”
Malinowski was the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, a vocal critic of Manama’s crackdown on protests, until he took up his current job in April.
Shiite-led protests erupted in Bahrain in February 2011, taking their cue from uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world and demanding democratic reforms in the Sunni absolute monarchy.
Security forces boosted by Saudi-led troops crushed the protests a month later, but smaller demonstrations frequently take place in Shiite villages, triggering clashes with police.
The foreign ministry said relations between Manama and Washington would not be affected by the “unfortunate acts” of Malinowski.
Bahrain is a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran. Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty, and Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.