Manama/Riyadh, Feb 23 (IANS) Bahrain has released 25 political prisoners following an order of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who left the country for Saudi Arabia for consultations Wednesday after a week of anti-regime protests.
CNN reported that about 25 detainees, described by the king as “prisoners of conscience”, were released Tuesday night and proceedings against other prisoners were halted, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said.
Among those released included the prominent human rights activist Ali Abdulemam, who runs bahrainonline.org; Abdul-Ghani Khanjar, a member of Committee for the Victims of Torture; and Mohammed Saeed, who works with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Several prominent Shia clerics, including Abduljalil Al-Sengais, spokesman of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy, were also released. Bahrain is a predominantly Shia nation run by a Sunni elite.
The releases bring to about 100 the total number of political detainees so far released, Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was quoted as saying.
But, he said, about 400 people are still detained on politically-inspired charges.
The move to free prisoners came as protests continued in Bahrain, a Gulf nation of about a million people, half of whom are expatriates.
King Hamad was set to arrive in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, a day after protesters surrounded the streets of the country’s capital, Saudi Press Agency reported.
Tens of thousands of people marched in the biggest anti-government rally since the mass protests erupted in the kingdom last week, and chants of “No Shia, No Sunni, only Bahraini” and “The regime must go” rang through the multitudes tramping across the centre of Manama.
The turnout was led by ambulance workers involved in rescuing some of those injured in the assault by security forces last Thursday on the Pearl Roundabout, which has been the epicentre of the Shia-dominated protest movement.
On Tuesday, King Hamad urged people to engage in a “national dialogue” and asked Bahrainis “to engage in this new process” and “move away from polarisation”, according to a government statement.
Protesters have been camped out in Manama and other cities since Jan 14, demanding more political representation in the country, which is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy. At least five people were killed and 230 injured in the protests.