Middle East

Bahrain releases former Shia opposition MPs

Matar Matar greeted by his mother. 7 Aug 2011
Image caption Matar Matar said he and Jawad Fairooz had been mistreated in prison

Bahrain has freed two former Shia opposition MPs arrested in the wake of widespread anti-government protests.

Jawad Fairooz and Matar Matar were detained in May after resigning from parliament in protest at the handling of the protests.

Mr Matar told the BBC they had been tortured in prison.

They were prosecuted in a security court on charges of taking part in illegal protests and defaming the country.

It is not clear if they still face trial in a civilian court.

Civilian courts took over jurisdiction after King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa lifted a state of emergency in June.

Mr Matar told the BBC he believed his arrest had been intended to put a pressure on his al-Wifaq party.

"At some stages we were tortured," he said. "In one of the cases we were beaten."

Human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Tajir was also released.

He was detained in April having defended people arrested during the Saudi-backed suppression of protests in March.

Correspondents say their release appears to be an attempt at defusing tensions in the country, a key US ally in the region that hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa recently accepted a series of reforms drawn up by a government-backed committee created to address grievances that emerged during the protests.

The kingdom's Shia community makes up about 70% of the population but many say they are discriminated against by the minority Sunni monarchy.