In this July 6 photo released by the Bahraini opposition group Al-Wefaq shows U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, second left, visiting with Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, left, former member of the Bahraini parliament, Abdul Jalil Khalil, second right, Timothy J. Pounds, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Bahrain, right, and others at a traditional weekly Ramadan gathering or Majlis, in Manama, Bahrain. (Al-Wefaq / via AP)
MANAMA, BAHRAIN — Bahraini authorities summoned two prominent opposition activists for questioning Wednesday in connection with their meeting with a U.S. diplomat who was ordered to leave the Gulf island nation this week.
The head of the country’s main Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq, Ali Salman, and member Khalil al-Marzooq, a former deputy parliament speaker, were summoned for violating a government order in relation to their meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, according to the Interior Ministry. It said they were released after questioning.
Bahraini authorities on Monday ordered Malinowski to leave the country following a meeting with Al-Wefaq members. They alleged he intervened in the country’s domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.
American officials have disputed that assertion, saying he met with some government officials and had scheduled meetings with others.
The expulsion has strained relations between Washington and its longtime Gulf ally Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The ministry’s statement Wednesday said the Al-Wefaq members violated a government decision that requires that any meetings between foreign officials and so-called “political societies” such as Al-Wefaq to take place in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and in the presence of a representative it has chosen.
Salman’s lawyers were prevented from attending his interrogation which focused mainly on the meeting with Malinowski in addition to the political situation in Bahrain and the region, according to Al-Wefaq.
Bahrain has faced more than three years of unrest after a Shiite-dominated opposition movement inspired by Arab Spring protests took to the streets to demand greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain moved to crush the uprising with the help of security forces from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Gulf Arab states.
Repeated rounds of talks between the government and members of the opposition have failed to significantly defuse the tensions, and activists frequently clash with security forces.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the U.S. has registered a formal complaint with the Bahraini embassy. She said the complaint was registered during the past 24 hours.
“We were very clear that we found some of the requests issued by the government of Bahrain to be inappropriate, contravening international l norms and conventions,” Psaki said. “We also have an important relationship with the government of Bahrain.”