MANAMA (Reuters) - A popular Bahraini blogger, released from six months’ jail after being accused of trying to topple the government, said Wednesday opposition groups and activists must agree quickly on their demands.
Ali Abduleman was among 23 Shi‘ite activists arrested in August and charged with plotting the violent overthrow of the government. They were freed as part of what the government said was a release of 308 prisoners on the orders of the king.
Abduleman said it was important for first-time activists and established opposition parties to have a clear goal.
“Do you want the royal family out of this country or not?” he asked. “If we manage these different opinions in our opposition we will get what we want.”
The prisoner release was seen as a further government concession after seven people were killed and hundreds wounded last week in the bloodiest unrest in Bahrain since the 1990s.
The king and crown prince have already promised to allow peaceful protests and offered a dialogue with opposition groups, which have been trying to coordinate their position.
After his release, Abduleman went straight to Manama’s Pearl Square, which protesters, mainly from Bahrain’s Shi‘ite majority, have turned into a symbol of their movement.
He was speaking as Shi‘ite clerics who were also among the 23 accused in the alleged coup plot were accompanied to the square by about 1,000 protesters.
Opposition parties such as the Shi‘ite Wefaq and the secular Waad demand a constitutional monarchy and an elected government, but many youth activists who used social media to help organize the protests that began last week want to oust the royal family.
The Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, now backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.
Abduleman is the founder of bahrainonline.org, a website on which Shi‘ites discuss politics. The government has at times blocked it, saying it is used to organize violent protests.
Abduleman said he and other detainees had been mistreated in prison. “In the first week they tortured us to pick up the information” he said. “(Once) I had to stand for five days.”
The government said those of the 308 released prisoners who made allegations of mistreatment would be contacted immediately for investigations into the claims.
“The Government of Bahrain takes allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating all and any claims made,” it said in a statement.
The government and its supporters, thousands of whom have also taken to the streets in recent days, deny discrimination against Shi‘ites and say reforms launched by King Hamad a decade ago have resulted in freedom and democracy rare in the region.