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Bahrain releases activist jailed for 4 years over part in 2011 uprising

Ibrahim Sharif, who as leader of a secular movement played a key role in Bahrain's 2011 protests, was jailed for plotting to overthrow leaders
Supporters of Sharif hold up placards bearing his image during an anti-government protest in 2014

Bahrain released an opposition leader at dawn on Saturday after he completed a four-year sentence for his involvement in anti-government protests in 2011.

The secular Waed group, whose full name is the National Democratic Action Society, said on its official Twitter account that party chief Ibrahim Sharif had been freed.

Translation: The people of Bahrain welcome the opposition activist Ibrahim Sharif after he spends more than four years in prison

In his first speech after his release, Sharif said he wanted to “thank the Bahraini people [who have persisted in] four and a quarter years of opposition. This is very important for the approximately 1,530 opposition activists in prison”.

Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been rocked by unrest since security forces crushed protests in 2011 demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Sharif had played a prominent role in the month-long protests and was later among a group of 20 activists tried for plotting to overthrow the Sunni rulers of Shia-majority Bahrain.

In June 2011, eight Shia activists were jailed for life, and the rest for two to 15 years. Sharif received a five-year sentence.

The judgement sparked concern in Washington which criticised the "severity" of the sentences and the use of military tribunals to try civilians.

Sharif's release comes four days after a Bahrain court jailed prominent opposition leader Ali Salman for four years for inciting disobedience and hatred in the kingdom.

Salman heads al-Wefaq, a Shia political association and one of the key forces behind the 2011 protests demanding reforms in Bahrain

His arrest in December drew condemnation from Iran and the US, which keeps Bahrain as a regional ally but occasionally criticises human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011, while hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, rights groups say.

Protesters continue to clash frequently with security forces in Shia villages outside the capital Manama.