Bahrain sets October 1 trial date for key activist

Dubai (AFP) - Prominent Bahraini rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of a jailed Shiite opposition figure, is to stand trial from October 1 charged with assaulting a police officer, her lawyer said Tuesday.

Mohammed al-Jishi told AFP the prosecutor general had also decided to extend her custody pending the trial. A conviction could carry a five-year prison sentence, he said.

Khawaja, a director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights who also has Danish nationality, was arrested after arriving at Manama airport on August 30.

In a hearing last week in a judge's office, attended only by Jishi and a Danish diplomat, Khawaja insisted the charges against her were "vindictive and fabricated," according to the lawyer.

Her arm in a sling, she countered by accusing police of attacking her at the airport. Jishi said Khawaja had to see a doctor during her custody due to her apparent trauma.

Bahrain's prosecution, citing witnesses, said Khawaja "took by surprise a female police officer and a policewoman when she hit them after they asked her to hand in her mobile phone as per arrest procedures."

It said medical reports showed that both personnel members were hurt.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, meanwhile, has called for Bahrain to release Khawaja "and all human rights defenders and individuals detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights".

Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was jailed for life following 2011 Shiite-led protests against authorities in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.

The daughter has been very active abroad in criticising Bahraini authorities since the crackdown.

She has been a familiar figure in Washington over the past three years, regularly meeting with members of Congress and administration officials.

In 2011, she testified as a witness at a congressional hearing on Bahrain.

Her 54-year-old father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, convicted of plotting to topple the monarchy, has been on hunger strike along with other inmates since August 25.

He already staged a 110-day hunger strike in 2012 in protest against his imprisonment.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, home base for the US Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years after the authorities crushed month-long protests with Saudi-led military backing.