WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen who had been sentenced in Bahrain to 10 years in jail in 2013 has been granted a royal pardon and was freed on Thursday after paying a fine, he and his lawyer said.
Tagi al-Maidan was born in the United States to a Bahraini mother and Saudi father and his status as a U.S. national had thrown a spotlight on the complex relationship between Washington and Bahrain, a U.S. ally in the volatile Gulf region that has long provided a base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Maidan was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2013 on charges of attempted murder during a disturbance related to Shi’ite Muslim demands for greater rights.
He had told Reuters that the charges against him were false, but that he had made a false confession under torture after his detention in October 2012. (reut.rs/23LY29H)
The government has denied any abuse in the incident, saying it has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards torture.
Mohammed al-Jishi, Maidan’s lawyer, said he had received an official document that referred to the royal pardon in Maidan’s case.
A copy of a document issued by Bahrain’s Public Prosecution office dated April 21 showed the details of the case.
“The accused carried out the sentence in the Reform and Rehabilitation Administration from Sept. 24, 2013 until April 20, 2016, as there was a special royal pardon and the required monetary amount was paid on April 21,” the document said.
Maidan was freed as President Barack Obama visited Saudi Arabia for talks with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a Gulf Arab grouping that includes Bahrain.
Maidan, reached by phone on Thursday, said he was on his way to Dubai.
“I was released a few hours ago. They told me a royal pardon was issued and that if I paid a fine, I would be released. I told my mother and she paid it,” said Maidan, who sounded composed.
Bahrain, which faces criticism over human rights, has seen frequent protests by members of the Shi’ite majority since February 2011, when it quelled a Shi’ite-led uprising demanding that the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty give up power.
The persistent unrest has placed Bahrain on the front line of a struggle for regional influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s close ally, and Shi’ite Iran, which denies Bahraini accusations of fomenting Shi’ite protests.
Bahrain’s Shi’ites have long complained of entrenched discrimination in areas such as employment and public services, allegations the Sunni-led government denies.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gently pressed Bahrain on human rights as he praised security cooperation with the Gulf monarchy.
Editing by Don Durfee and Frances Kerry