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Amnesty urges Bahrain to free opposition ex-MP

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rights group Amnesty International has urged Bahrain to free opposition former MP Khalil Marzooq, accused by Manama of links to Shiite "extremists".

"Khalil al-Marzooq is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned only for his vehement criticism of the government," the London-based organisation said in a statement late on Wednesday.

"He must be immediately and unconditionally released," Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director Hassiba Hadj said.

The public prosecutor of the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom decided on Tuesday to hold Marzooq -- a senior figure in the main Shiite Al-Wefaq opposition group, in custody for 30 days pending investigation on charges of inciting terrorism.

"His arrest is yet another blow to the National Dialogue which the Bahraini authorities have been flaunting as a reason to cancel the visit of the UN expert on torture to the country," said Hadj.

Five opposition groups, including Al-Wefaq, on Wednesday suspended their participation in the national dialogue, which the government initiated to break the political deadlock in the Shiite-majority country.

"However harsh his speech towards the authorities, he should not have been arrested for expressing his views," Hadj said.

But the authorities insisted late Wednesday that Marzooq's arrest was unrelated to his political activism, and "relates to an investigation into his links to an extremist group", the radical February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition.

"This group has repeatedly incited and glorified attacks against police and civilians on a daily basis," an Information Affairs Authority statement said.

A prosecution service statement said on Tuesday that Marzooq was charged with "inciting and advocating terrorism, and using his leadership position in a legally organised political society to incite crimes".

Prosecutors also accuse Marzooq of being "affiliated with (a) terrorist organisation," namely the February 14 group.

In June, the authorities in Manama announced the arrest of several leaders of the cyber-group for suspected links to Shiite Iran.

Marzooq was deputy speaker in the 40-member parliament before 18 Al-Wefaq MPs walked out in February 2011 in protest at violence against demonstrators.

In March 2012, security forces crushed a month of Shiite-led protests demanding democratic reforms.

At least 89 people have been killed since the Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests erupted, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130919/amnesty-urges-bahrain-free-opposition-ex-mp