DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s public prosecutor charged two leaders of the country’s banned main opposition party of spying for Qatar on Wednesday, months after cutting ties with the neighbouring Gulf monarchy amid a regional diplomatic row.
Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of al-Wefaq party, and Sheikh Hassan Sultan are accused of colluding with Qatar to carry out “hostile acts” in Bahrain and damage its national interests and prestige, according to a statement on state news agency BNA.
The men met Qatari officials as well as affiliated agents inside Lebanese Shi‘ite militia Hezbollah, the statement said. It accused them of transferring confidential information and receiving financial support from Qatar.
The prosecutor ordered that both men be taken into custody.
Salman’s wife Alya Radhi wrote on Twitter that she had spoken by phone with her husband, who denied all charges. There was no immediate comment from al-Wefaq.
Salman is already serving a four-year prison sentence for inciting hatred and insulting the interior ministry, after he was arrested in 2015.
He was summoned and interrogated about the new accusations in the presence of his lawyer, the statement said.
It did not elaborate on whether Sultan was detained.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of financing terrorism.
Bahrain and close ally Saudi Arabia believe Qatar is fomenting unrest in the island kingdom by supporting protests and sporadic attacks against security forces, backed by arch-rival Iran.
Both countries deny the charges and say the boycott is an attempt to rein in support for reform in Bahrain.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been on edge since 2011 “Arab Spring” protests led by its Shi‘ite majority were put down by the government with the help of fellow Gulf Arab states.
The government banned al-Wefaq and revoked the citizenship of the country’s top Shi‘ite Muslim cleric as part of a crackdown on the opposition.
Human rights groups accuse Bahrain of clamping down on dissent and violently cracking down on protests, charges the government rejects.
Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg