[JURIST] The public prosecutor's office of the government of Bahrain [official website] said Thursday that the country's most senior opposition leader and one of his aides will be charged for holding an illegal meeting with a US diplomat from the office of the US Secretary of State [official website]. The Bahraini nationals are Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the al-Wefaq party [GU Berkley Center backgrounder], and his political aide Khalil al-Marzouq. The US diplomat is Tom Malinowski, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Malinowski was expelled [BBC report] from Bahrain on Monday and is now in the US. The Bahraini public prosecutor announced Salman and Marzouq were charged [Reuters report] with "contacting a representative of a foreign government in violation of the political associations of law and related ministerial decisions." Last month a court in Bahrain cleared Marzouq of terrorism charges. Bahrain is the home of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is considered an important ally [NYT op-ed] for the US in the Arabian Peninsula. On Monday the government of Bahrain stated the expulsion of Malinowski should not affect the relationship between US and Bahrain, but State Department [official website] spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced the US was deeply concerned by Bahrain's demand.
Protests and other clashes have occurred in Bahrain since 2011, when Shi'ite Muslims began demanding more governmental influence in the Sunni-ruled constitutional monarchy of Bahrain, and a number of legal proceedings in 2014 have contributed to political tension in the country. In April a Bahraini court sentenced [JURIST report] eight activists to life in prison for killing a policeman and participating in anti-regime protests last August. In March a Bahraini court sentenced [JURIST report] 13 citizens to life in prison and one man to 10 years in prison for attempting to kill a police officer and participating in an illegal protest. Also in March Bahrain's Fourth High Criminal Court convicted 11 defendants [JURIST report] of possessing weapons, ammunition and explosives and of manufacturing bombs for terror purposes, which resulted in 15-year prison sentences for the accused and significant fines. In late 2013 a judge in Bahrain rejected [JURIST report] a request from human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to approve his conditional early release, for which Rajab was eligible under Bahraini law. Psaki commented that the US continues to urge Bahrain to permit all sectors of society to peacefully voice their political views.