|Bahrain charged 23 Shia opposition activists this week with "forming terror groups" [AFP]
Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have called on Britain to expel two leaders of Bahrain's Shia opposition charged with plotting to oust the kingdom's Sunni government.
In a statement issued on Monday after a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the six GCC states urged Britain "to deal seriously with terrorist groups and individuals supporting terrorism... and not to grant them political asylum, or allow them to exploit the climate of freedom to damage the security and stability of member countries."
The ministers also expressed support for Bahrain's move to curb "terror", after it charged on Saturday 23 Shia opposition activists, including the two leaders based in London, with "forming a terror network".
"This sophisticated terrorist network with operations inside and outside Bahrain has undertaken and planned a systematic and layered campaign of violence and subversion aimed squarely at undermining the national security of Bahrain," Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed, a public prosecution official, said in statement after the arrests were announced.
No details of the alleged coup plot have been made public.
One of the London-based leaders charged is Husain Mashaima, the secretary general of Haq, the Movement of Liberties and Democracy, a Shia group that rejected the 2002 reforms intended to put an end to Shia-led unrest that rocked Bahrain in the 1990s.
The other is Saeed al-Sheehabi, the secretary general of the Bahrain Freedom Islamic Movement.
Ali Abdulemam, a well-known Bahraini blogger, was arrested on Sunday by Bahraini authorities for allegedly spreading "false news" on BahrainOnline.org, the activist portal censored by the Bahraini government.
In a statement, Bahrain's interior ministry denied that Abdulemam and the other detainees were arrested because of their political views.
"Any assumption that Mr. Abdulemam has been arrested purely on the basis of any political views he may hold is entirely inaccurate," the ministry said. "[It] is connected solely to evidence of his involvement with senior members of the terrorist network... authorities are continuing to investigate the full extent of Mr. Abdulemam's involvement in the terrorist plot."
Human rights groups and activists in Bahrain say the government's recent crackdown on opposition leaders is motivated by a desire to reassert itself ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the mainstream Shia opposition Islamic National Accord Association, which won 17 of the 40 seats in parliament after the 2006 elections, warned last month that it would "lead to more protests".
Shias in Bahrain, which form nearly 70 per cent of the population, have long complained of discrimination in state jobs and housing and claim they are barred from influential posts in the security forces.
The GCC bloc consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.