A Bahraini court on Wednesday acquitted a prominent opposition figure on charges of “inciting terrorism” and having links with a group that the government has designated as “terrorist”.
Khalil al-Marzooq, a former member of Parliament for the main Shia opposition bloc al-Wefaq, was arrested on September 17, but has been out on bail since his trial began on October 24. Al-Marzooq was prohibited from travelling abroad pending the results of his trial.
“Today’s acquittal came as no surprise to me to be honest,” al-Marzooq told Al Jazeera. “From the case itself, there was no hard and tangible evidence to prove the charges levied against me.”
The opposition figure was present in court on Wednesday for the verdict, along with representatives of the opposition as well as delegates from the embassies of Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
Al-Marzooq was initially arrested by the government after being caught on camera allegedly raising the flag of the February 14 Coalition during an opposition protest in the town of Saar in September 2013.
The coalition group has been designated by the Bahraini government as a “terrorist organisation”. A day after his arrest, five opposition groups including al-Marzooq’s al-Wefaq, suspended talks with the government.
“First, the judiciary has no reason to sentence him as the evidence that was presented in court was fake and weak and does not show that Khalil Marzooq had actually done anything related to the charges placed on him,” Majeed Milad, a senior member of the al-Wefaq party, told Al Jazeera.
“Secondly, the court has no choice but to acquit as the government would not gain anything, locally or internationally, by placing him in jail,” Milad said.
Bahrain’s public prosecutor’s office released a statement on their Twitter account saying it would study the court’s ruling and make a decision on whether there were any legal grounds for an appeal.
Al-Marzooq was a deputy speaker in the 40-member parliament before 18 MPs from the influential al-Wefaq walked out in February 2011 in protest over the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
Protests erupted on February 14, 2011, in Bahrain, taking their cue from Arab uprisings elsewhere in the region and demanding democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy.
Maryam al-Khawaja, vice president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that she was not surprised by al-Marzooq’s acquittal as “it was obviously a political decision”.
We are still engaging with the current government and regime as a party but there has to be an environment suitable to have a dialogue that can be seen as credible and legitimate. That include a political process involving the loyalists, socialists, liberals and whoever wants a say in the government.
“Khalil al-Marzooq represents al-Wefaq party and the opposition movement. So for the government to sentence him would mean that they would essentially block him from any future ‘national dialogues’. He is instrumental as he represents the largest political opposition force in the country and they need him for talks to be seen as legitimate and credible,” al-Khawaja told Al Jazeera.
What both al-Marzooq and al-Khawaja agreed on is that for any dialogue to move forward, their government has to “give in” certain goodwill gestures in order to regain the trust of the people. “The political process in my country needs more than just my acquittal,” al-Marzooq said.
One of those gestures that al-Marzooq demands is the release of political prisoners still held in Bahraini jails. Others include allowing of peaceful protests to take place without any crackdowns by the police and the citizenship reinstatements of several exiled Bahraini opposition members living abroad.
“We are still engaging with the current government and regime as a party but there has to be an environment suitable to have a dialogue that can be seen as credible and legitimate. That includes a political process involving the loyalists, socialists, liberals and whoever wants a say in the government,” al-Marzooq said.
“We cannot move forward as a country without first building the trust and confidence the Bahraini people need in their government.”
The opposition often complain of political and economic discrimination, including being shut out from certain professions, a charge that the authorities deny.
Bahrain bans protests and gatherings not licensed by the government. The government quelled a 2011 opposition uprising with help from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states, but protests and small-scale clashes persist, while bomb attacks have seen an increase since mid-2012.