Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in Bahrain in a show of support for prominent Shia cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim before his trial.
The protesters in the northwestern village of Diraz also condemned Manama’s continued crackdown on peaceful dissent on Wednesday.
Other similar rallies were held across the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
Ayatollah Qassim is set to appear before a court on Thursday over charges of promoting sectarianism and violence. He has denied all charges.
Bahraini authorities revoked ayatollah Qassim’s citizenship in late June. They later dissolved the main opposition bloc, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, as well as the Islamic Enlightenment Institution, founded by the 79-year-old cleric, besides another opposition movement, the al-Risala Islamic Association.
22 rights groups call for Rajab’s release
Also on Wednesday, 22 human rights groups wrote to 50 countries calling on them to pressure Bahrain into releasing prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.
The rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, called on the 50 states to “speak out on Bahrain’s continued misuse of the judicial system to harass and silence human rights defenders.”
All of the countries who were written to have been signatories to past UN statements censuring Manama’s human rights violations.
While addressing the 33rd Human Rights Council on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also raised concerns over the Al Khalifah regime’s human rights record.
I am concerned by harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists [in Bahrain], and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process,” he said.
“The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them,” he added.
Rajab, who has been repeatedly detained for organizing anti-regime demonstrations and publishing posts critical of the ruling family, was pardoned for health reasons last year. However, the 51-year-old campaigner was rearrested again on June 13.
Rajab will be tried over tweets he posted in March 2015 criticizing Manama’s involvement in the deadly Saudi aggression against Yemen and torture at Bahrain’s notorious Jaw Prison.
He also faces fresh charges after writing in a US daily from confinement about the regime’s repression.
Since February 14, 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis, calling on the Al Khalifah family to relinquish power.
Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been deployed to the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protests.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the Bahraini crackdown on the anti-regime activists.