12 December 2016 – Today, the Bahraini appeals court upheld the arbitrary 9-year sentence against opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman following an extended and flawed re-trial.
The upholding of the conviction of the Al-Wefaq leader echoes Bahrain’s continued failure to adhere to international standards of human rights and fair trial.
We, the undersigned, condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s imprisonment on politically motivated charges and call for his immediate release.
Sheikh Ali Salman is the leader of the now forbidden Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political group in the country. He was arrested in December 2014 and a second time in June 2015, when he was sentenced to four years in prison on a litany of charges including provoking hatred against the regime. During the same trail it was established that he was acquitted from the more serious charge of inciting revolution.
However, prosecution appealed promptly, and on 30 May 2016 the higher appeals court changed its previous decision, convicting him for inciting revolution and increasing his sentence to 9 years. More specifically, the court sentenced him to 7 years for “inciting change of the regime,” “inciting hatred against a sector of society,” and “inciting criminal activities,” and to 2 more years for “insulting a statutory body.”
The United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) considers Sheikh Salman as arbitrarily detained – raising in its decision concerns of free expression and due process. WGAD calls on the Bahraini government to release Sheikh Salman immediately, and provide him appropriate compensation.
Prosecution of political activists and societies since 2011:
Al-Wefaq was the largest political party in the country and won over 60% of the vote in the 2010 general election, before it was recently dissolved by the Bahraini government. The Bahraini Ministry of Justice ordered the dissolution of Al-Wefaq following court proceedings in June 2016. The society’s accounts have been frozen and physical property repossessed.
In 2011, Al-Wefaq’s 18 MPs had resigned from the largely powerless National Assembly in protest against the Bahraini government’s violent response to the Arab Spring protests. Reconciliation dialogues between Al-Wefaq and the government collapsed in 2014. Consequently, Al-Wefaq’s opposition bloc chose to boycott the 2014’s elections, the first after the Arab Spring. Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest took place just a month after.
In addition to Al-Wefaq and Sheikh Ali Salman, the Bahraini government has targeted additional opposition figures and political societies.
Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary-General of the political group Al-Wahdawi, is serving a 3-year sentence for calling the Saudi war in Yemen unconstitutional.
The opposition movement, the National Democratic Action Society – Wa’ad – also has been under pressure. Its leader Ebrahim Sharif is banned from traveling and was repeatedly subject to prosecution over the past years. Ebrahim Sharif has served 4 years in prison following his arrest, torture and sentencing by a military court in 2011; he served another year in prison after he called for peaceful opposition in July 2015, and was charged again in November 2015 for criticising the Prince Charles visit to Bahrain. These latest charges were dropped following pressure from the United Kingdom.
Since 2011 the government has repeatedly subjected major political leaders to judicial harassment. Among those currently imprisoned are most members of the “Bahrain 13”, a group of high-profile political leaders and activists. The detained include Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq political movement. Authorities have arrested, tortured, and prosecuted these activists on politically-motivated charges.
The court’s decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence is taken days after 2 major security conferences were held in Bahrain. Last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May visited Bahrain for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Leaders Summit. PM May stated “I want to leave no-one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships between the UK and the Gulf.” Human Rights were not officially raised during her visit.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was also in Bahrain for a separate security forum, the Manama Dialogue, during which he declared that “Britain is back from East of Suez”, alluding to the UK’s colonial past in Bahrain. He also failed to address human rights.
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also attended the Manama Dialogue and met with Bahrain’s King Hamad. While the US has previously called for Sheikh Ali Salman’s release, the Secretary of Defense doesn’t appear to have raised the case during his visit.
The Bahraini government is empowered by its allies’ continued silence in the face of escalating repression. The Bahraini penal code is used to criminalise free expression. Sentences related to “insulting statutory bodies”, “insulting the King” and “insulting the flag of Bahrain” – are arbitrarily used by authorities to restrict nearly all independent activities relating to politics, civil society, and human rights.
Bahrain has violated Sheikh Ali Salman’s freedom from arbitrary detention, right to a fair trial, and right to political participation, as defined under articles 2, 9 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and articles 9, 14, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
We, the undersigned, condemn this upheld sentence and call on Bahrain to:
- Release Sheikh Ali Salman immediately, dropping all charges
- Reverse the decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq
- Halt the harassment of political and civil society figures in Bahrain
- Release all political prisoners
We call on Bahrain’s allies, the United Kingdom and United States to:
- Condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s unfair trial and call for his release
- Call for the release of all political prisoners
- Use political leverage to the benefit of human rights in Bahrain
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Bahrain Center for Human Rights