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Bahrain releases pro-democracy activist awaiting trial

THE LEVANT – Bahraini authorities released pro-democracy activist Zainab Al Khawaja from detention on Wednesday, her lawyer and sister said, as she awaits trial over a charge of insulting Bahrain’s king by tearing up his picture.

Zainab, daughter of jailed activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, fell foul of the judge last month during an appeal hearing into two cases involving her that date back to 2012, her lawyer Mohammed Al Wasati said at the time.

On his Twitter account on Wednesday, Wasati said that Zainab had been released based on a decision by the court. Zainab’s sister, Maryam, also said on her Twitter account that her sister was freed. Zainab still has to face trial next month.

Bahraini officials were not immediately available for comment.

Zainab, who is pregnant and lives in Bahrain, was an activist during 2011 pro-democracy protests, where she became known for publishing news of the uprising on social media.

Earlier this year, the king approved a law imposing a jail sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) for anyone who publicly insulted him.

Zainab’s younger sister, Maryam, who is acting head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was briefly detained earlier this year upon returning from Europe. She has been freed on bail pending trial on charges of entering the country illegally, assaulting a policewoman at the airport and insulting King Hamad.

Bahrain, a base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since the 2011 Arab uprisings, when mass protests led by Shi’ite Muslims erupted in Manama.

Shi’ites complain of political and economic marginalisation, a charge the government denies. Talks between the government and opposition have failed to defuse tensions.

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