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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 November, 2004, 17:08 GMT
Bahrain activist pardoned by king
Bahraini women holding pictures of human rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja outside the courtroom on Sunday
Khawaja accused the state of economic mismanagement
The King of Bahrain has swiftly pardoned a human rights activist who was sentenced to one year in jail for inciting hatred against the government.

King Hamad also ordered the release of 13 people who had demonstrated in support of activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja last month.

Mr Khawaja, vice-president of the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His case has raised concerns at home and abroad about democratic reform.

In recent years, Bahrain has boasted about making significant moves towards democratic government under the king's leadership, said the BBC's Julia Wheeler.

Amnesty International said the court verdict earlier on Sunday was "a dangerous step against human rights" in the kingdom.

Chanting

The king's decree appears to be a suspension of the remainder of Mr Khawaja's sentence rather than a pardon of the charges, says the Associated Press.

He also stressed the need to preserve the benefits of the reforms he has introduced and to maintain national unity.

There is a little bit of justice somewhere
Khadija al-Mousawi
Mr Khawaja's wife
Mr Khawaja had accused the government publicly of mismanaging the economy.

He had called for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salm - the king's uncle.

His organisation was closed down in September for breaking association laws shortly after his arrest.

About 150 people chanted in support of Mr Khawaja outside the courtroom on Sunday.

"Where is the freedom of speech? Where are human rights?" said one banner carried by the protesters.

'Good gesture'

Mr Khawaja's wife earlier said her husband would not appeal against the court's verdict as he considered the law "unjust".

She told the Associated Press the pardon was a "good gesture" by the king.

"There is a little bit of justice somewhere," she said.

The BCHR is one of two human rights organisations authorised in Bahrain when King Hamad gradually introduced political reforms after becoming ruler in 1999.

Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which is the home of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, is the poorest Arab Gulf state with high unemployment, especially in some Shia-populated areas.

The island witnessed widespread unrest in the mid-1990s as Shias protested for the reinstatement of Bahrain's elected parliament, which was dissolved in 1975.


SEE ALSO:
Bahrain dissolves rights watchdog
29 Sep 04 |  Middle East
Bahrain releases six 'militants'
23 Jun 04 |  Middle East
Amnesty slams Gulf rights record
22 Jun 04 |  Americas
Country profile: Bahrain
20 Mar 04 |  Country profiles


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