NEW YORK (AP) — A secular political leader in Bahrain was charged Sunday with "inciting hatred" against the island's rulers after giving an interview to The Associated Press during a recent visit by Britain's Prince Charles, an activist and his party said.
Ebrahim Sharif of the Waad party had told the AP on Friday he feared the Prince of Wales' visit to the tiny kingdom could "whitewash" an ongoing crackdown on dissent there. He also suggested the island's ruling family should enter into a power-sharing agreement with political parties as the kingdom faces growing financial pressure from low oil prices.
On Sunday, Bahrain's public prosecution said it questioned an unnamed man over comments made to the foreign press.
"The public prosecution ordered his release after charging him with openly inciting hatred of the political system in Bahrain and with contempt," a statement by prosecutors said.
Sharif could not be reached for comment. However, his political party and Sayed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy identified the man charged as Sharif.
"Prince Charles was criticized for participating in a blatant PR exercise for the Bahraini regime," Alwadaei said in a statement. "Now in connection to his visit, Bahrain is prosecuting Ebrahim Sharif."
It's not clear what penalties Sharif, who has been imprisoned before in Bahrain, could face if he is convicted. Similar convictions have involved both prison time and fines.
Bahrain's government did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. However, it told the AP just days earlier that "no individual in Bahrain will, or can be, prosecuted for his or her political views due to the freedom of expression protections explicitly stated in the constitution."
Bahrain put down its Arab Spring protests with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The protests were backed by the Shiite majority and others, and were aimed at demanding more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family.
While low-level unrest persisted for years, things remained largely peaceful until April, when Bahrain's military announced it was "ready to deal firmly and with determination with these sedition groups and their heads" after a gasoline bomb killed a police officer.
Since then, authorities suspended the country's largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. Famed activist Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned and now awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading "false news." Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who himself is serving a life sentence over his role in the 2011 protests, was forced into exile.
Meanwhile, the country's security forces have besieged a small town home to a Shiite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government earlier this year.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.
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