Bahraini authorities briefly detained and questioned the head of the main Shia opposition group over comments he made during a religious sermon, the Interior Ministry has confirmed.

The ministry on Saturday alleged that Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of the al-Wefaq Islamic Association, "incited hatred" of the government and "promoted rioting and vandalism".

Salman was later released from custody, according to a statement from the public prosecution, but has been barred from travelling abroad while prosecutors consider the case.

Al-Wefaq, which has spearheaded protests against authorities in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, called the detention "illegal."

"He is in detention after a series of illegal measures which comprised summonsing him to the office of criminal investigation and bringing him before a public prosecutor," the group said in a statement before Salman's release.

In a message to supporters on Saturday evening, Salman urged them to stay peaceful.

'Will not surrender'

The comments by Salman that allegedly sparked the furore included an instruction, during his Friday sermon, for followers to react peacefully to "state violence."

"Repression cannot stop a stirred people," he said, according to a text of the sermon seen by the news agency Reuters. "Now they have doubled the number of arrested people. We don't want one more person arrested but we are ready to have 10,000 prisoners, including ourselves, and 20,000. We will not surrender."

Salman's questioning came nearly two months after the tiny Gulf kingdom, which is ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty, charged him with insulting the Interior Ministry.

The Shia opposition began protests in 2011 to demand political reform and a greater role in running the country.

Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement issued a statement in Beirut condemning Salman's arrest and calling for solidarity, dubbing his detention a "sign of political weakness" by the Bahraini government.

Source: Agencies