On November 6th, 2018 the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), Pier Antonio Panzeri released a statement on the life sentence handed to Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman. Panzeri expressed his deep concerns on the arrest of Ali Salman as well as all prisoners of conscience detained in Bahrain.
The member of the European Parliament encouraged Bahraini’s authorities to comply with international and human rights commitments in order to ensure fundamental rights, specifically freedom of expression and assembly. The statement, previous of the November 24th elections, calls on the government to ensure that civil society is allowed to participate in the democratic debate without fear and political pressure. Panzeri underlines how an independent civil society, enjoying positively its fundamental rights, is the best contribution to development, stability and prosperity. The role of organizations of the civil society is crucial in order to prevent corruption and extremism and meaningful accountability.
On November 4th, leading figure of the Bahraini opposition Ali Salman and two members of the now-dissolved al-Wefaq Society, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali Al Aswad, were sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage. This decision has been made weeks before the Bahraini’s elections for a lower house of the parliament and a month before Salman was supposed to be released after four years of imprisonment.
The case of Sheik Al Salman has already been raised by the European Parliament in its resolutions of July 2015 and July 2016. The Parliament continues to call for its and other political prisoners release: other resolutions demand the liberation of Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Mohammed Ramadan, Hussain Ali Mosa, Sheik Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and Khalil Al Halwachi.
A first visit of a delegation of the Subcommittee on Human rights was held in 2012 where the EP visited Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Jau Prison whilst in Bahrain. A further visit to Bahrain was planned for 2017 which, however, has been denied by the Bahraini’s authorities.
Since 2014, Salman has been facing judicial harassment: arrested and later sentenced to four years in prison on free expression charges relating to political speeches he gave in his capacity as Secretary General of the al-Wefaq political society. Later in 2017, when his sentence was concluding, he was charged of espionage for Qatar by the Bahraini authorities.
In June 2018, Salman was found innocent by the Bahrain’s High Criminal Court but an immediate appeal of the Public Prosecution Office lead to several postponements of the appeals trial and finally Bahrain’s High Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal and sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman and his two co-defendants to life in prison.
The statement of the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights sends a clear message to the Bahraini government calling for the release of prisoners of conscience and mainly of Salman. However, the situation continues to worsen whereas civil and political rights continued to be violated and a tense political environment has not created conditions to carry out free and fair elections.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) calls on the Bahraini authorities to take immediate actions to release Sheikh Ali Salman condemned with absurd espionage charges. Moreover, the ECDHR calls on the European Parliament to further continue to monitor the situation in Bahrain pressuring the government with more effective actions in order to ensure the release of political figures behind bars and cease restrictive measures on the civil society