King pardons jailed opposition leaders
Bahrain’s King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa pardoned 178 detainees arrested on terrorism charges since December 2007. The group included three key opposition figures from the banned Shiite-dominated Al Haq movement, whose arrests sparked street protests in January.2009.
The three figures - the secretary general of Al Haq Movement Hasan Mushaima, the Shiite clergymen Mohammed Habib al Muqdad; and the head of the civil liberties arm of the movement, Abduljaleel al Singace.
The interior minister indirectly indicated the release followed talks with key Shiite religious figures from the opposition Al Wefaq Society, who put forth efforts to secure he release.
In January 2009, Al Haq supporters clashed with police for three days in protests against the arrest of the Shiite opposition figures. Unrest spread through the outskirts of thecapital and many Shiite villages.
(12 April 2009)
Analysis and forecast (↓ decreasing risk)
Leaders of the Shiite-dominated Al Haq movement have been on trial for attempting to overthrow the government. The trial has been closely followed by members of Bahrain’s Shiite community as well as international human rights organizations. Without the King’s pardon, it would have been likely that a guilty verdict would result in a harsh punishment, leading to further widespread clashes between the Shiite community and the Sunni dominated Bahraini authorities. The Shiite community forms the majority of the local Bahraini population as well as the majority of the poorest sections of the population.
The King’s pardon has diffused what could have evolved into the most serious civil unrest challenge facing Bahrain. It remains to be seen how Al Haq will react in the long-term, particularly given that there are accusations that its members received assistance from Syria and Iran.