A Bahraini court acquitted the jailed head of the Shia opposition of all charges yesterday in his trial for alleged spying for regional rival Qatar, a judicial source and activists said.
Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Bahrain's largest -- and now banned -- Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq was found not guilty along with two of his aides, who were tried in absentia, a judicial source said on condition of anonymity.
Groups including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, confirmed his acquittal.
"Sheikh Ali Salman was found innocent," Sheikh Maytham al-Salman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told AFP. "We hope this ruling opens the way for dialogue and reconciliation."
Sheikh Ali has been behind bars since 2014 serving a four-year jail sentence on charges of inciting hatred.
He is now expected to be released on December 28, according to Amnesty International.
In November, Sheikh Ali pleaded not guilty to new charges of communicating with a foreign state to commit acts hostile to the state of Bahrain -- specifically Qatar.
The charges came after Bahrain and its Gulf allies cut ties with Qatar last June over allegations the emirate supported Islamist extremist groups and was too close to Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.
Tiny but strategic Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by a Sunni royal family that dominates all top government posts.
It has been gripped by civil unrest since 2011, when authorities bloodily crushed protests calling for a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.
Both religious and secular opposition groups have since been banned and dozens of high-profile clerics and activists thrown behind bars.
Al-Wefaq was the largest bloc in parliament before the 2011 protests. All its members resigned from parliament in protest against the state crackdown on the rallies.