Bahrain has acquitted the head of the country’s opposition on charges of spying for Qatar, a judicial source told AFP.
Sheikh Ali Salman – head of Bahrain’s banned al-Wefaq Party – was found not guilty on all charges, along with two of his aides who were tried in absentia.
“Sheikh Ali Salman was found innocent,” Sheikh Maytham al-Salman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told AFP.
“We hope this ruling opens the way for dialogue and reconciliation.”
Groups including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, also confirmed his acquittal.
Sheikh Ali has been behind bars since 2014 serving a four-year jail sentence on charges of inciting hatred.
In November, he pleaded not guilty to new charges of communicating with a foreign state to commit acts hostile to the state of Bahrain – specifically Qatar.
His supporters said that Sheikh Ali was asked to mediate between Qatar and Bahrain in 2011 following tensions between the two countries.
He was charged in November 2017 of working with Qatar against the Manama regime, with Bahrain also accusing Doha of attempting to overthrow the government.
Qatar and Sheikh Ali have denied the allegations.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt cut ties with Doha in the previous June after allegations it supports extremist groups and being too close to Iran, something rejected by Qatar.
Sheikh Ali is part of Bahrain’s Shia majority, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family and holds all top government posts.
Bahrainis rose up against the regime in 2011, calling for a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister. The protests – led by Bahrain’s Shia population – were brutally suppressed by authorities and a Saudi-ked intervention force.
Dozens of high-profile religious and secular opposition activists have been jailed, with accusations of torture in Bahraini jails.
Bahrain accuses also Iran of fanning unrest on the island, charges.
Iran says it is merely critising the repression of peaceful protests led by its co-religionists, as Bahrain’s Western allies have also done.
Al-Wefaq, headed by Ali Salman, was the largest bloc in parliament before the 2011 protests.
All its members resigned their seats and the group was later dissolved by court order in 2016.