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Bahrain officials charge Shiite opposition leaders over alleged coup plot

Prosecutors in Bahrain [BBC backgrounder] on Saturday charged 23 Shiite Muslims with terrorism-related offenses and conspiring to overthrow the government, claiming that they were acting under the direction of an unnamed foreign government. The suspects, who have been under arrest since August, are charged with undermining national security [NYT report] and planning violence, intimidation and subversion through an international terrorist network. At least 10 prominent Shiite opposition figures were formally charged by prosecution officials, including Abduljalil al-Singace, Mohamed Habeeb al-Saffaf and Abdulhadi al-Mokhaidar, part of the leadership of the the Haq Movement, a Shiite-dominated opposition group. The men were arrested in an operation last month along with more than 250 opposition members [Guardian report], building political tension between the Shiite majority and the Sunni-led government before the October 23 parliamentary election [official website]. Rights groups have criticized the charges as signs of repression .

The Bahraini government has faced repeated criticism over its human rights record in recent years. In February Human Rights Watch claimed the government had reverted to using torture [JURIST report] to gain confessions from detainees after a decade of reform banning such practices. The US State Department deplored impunity for human rights violations and crimes in Bahrain in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [JURIST report], The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) [advocacy website] has voiced similar concerns.

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