On November 4 2018, after four years of detention, Sheikh Ali Salman was sentenced to life in prison by the Bahraini High Court of Appeals. Sheikh Salman’s trial was part of a wider initiative by the Bahraini government to silence political opposition before the parliamentary elections of November 24 2018.
On June 21 2018, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court found Sheikh Ali Salman innocent of politically motivated charges related to espionage, but the Public Prosecution Office immediately appealed the verdict. The Public Prosecution Office had called on the High Criminal Court to hand down the maximum sentence possible, which in this case would be the death penalty. After postponing the trial date for two months, on November 4, the High Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring Sheikh Ali Salman guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Sheikh Salman was originally arrested in December 2014 on charges of “inciting disobedience and hatred in the kingdom” for giving speeches as Secretary-General of the now dissolved Al-Wefaq opposition society, and he was ultimately sentenced to four years in prison. Towards the end of his four-year sentence, in November 2017, Sheikh Salman was charged again, this time for “conspiring with Qatar” during the peaceful protest movement in 2011. The charges stem from an open and documented mediation attempt that was originally encouraged by the United States, with the Bahraini government’s knowledge.
The case of Sheikh Ali Salman is just one of many that shows the Bahraini government’s power to undermine and suppress the opposition, and the extent it will go to do so. It is deeply alarming that the government not only prosecuted one of the kingdom’s most prominent opposition leaders prior to elections, but also seeked his possible execution over baseless allegations. Sheikh Salman’s trial is a key example of the government’s assault on independent political and civil society, even as it moves to ban nearly all opposition members from participating outright.
The life in prison sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman should be of extreme concern to the international community, especially as Bahrain’s elections, as expected, were neither free nor fair. ECDHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to release Sheikh Salman at once and drop all extant charges against him. We further call on the international community, in particular key allies of Bahrain including the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union to pressure the Bahraini government to end its oppressive and systematic human rights violations, including its all-out crackdown on civil and political society.