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Bahrain Opposition Leader on Trial

February 21, 1999

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Bahrain’s leading Shiite Muslim opposition leader was put on trial behind closed doors Sunday, three years after he was detained on charges of spying and inciting unrest against the ruling family.

Sheik Abdul-Ameer al-Jamri, 62, was detained in January 1996 after he ignored government warnings and stepped up a campaign for political reforms. Bahraini laws allow detention for up to three years without trial.

Al-Jamri is being tried by the State Security Court, which was set up in March 1996 to deal solely with the Shiite unrest. A panel of three judges is presiding over the trial being held in Jaw, 20 miles south of the capital, Manama.

At least 40 people have been killed in bombings and arson attacks blamed on Shiites, members of the second-largest sect of Islam. They are the majority among Bahrain’s 400,000 citizens.

Bahrain’s ruling family belongs to the mainstream Sunni sect, the biggest single sect in Islam.

Only Al-Jamri’s wife, Zahra Youssef Attiyah, 55, and their four sons were allowed to attend the trial besides a defense attorney, Abdul-Shaheed Khalaf.

A government official said the trial was adjourned after a 45-minute session to give the defense time to prepare its case and to provide new documents. It was not known when the trial will resume.

Al-Jamri was the most prominent voice calling for a return of Bahrain’s elected parliament, a release of political prisoners and more freedom of speech.

In the court, he pleaded innocent to the five charges read out to him, including spying for a foreign country, forming a party to overthrow the government and broadcasting false statements against the government, Khalaf said.

He quoted al-Jamri as saying: ``All I asked was for the Parliament to be brought back. I am no criminal.″ He also distanced himself from the violence on the island and apologized for the unrest by Shiite militants, Khalaf said.

He said he applied for a bail and is awaiting a ruling.

The emir, Sheik Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, dissolved the legislature in 1975. It has remained shuttered since then.

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