20 June 2018 – This Thursday, 21 June 2018, imprisoned opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman is expected to receive the final verdict in his trial relating to politically motivated charges of espionage. The Pubic Prosecution Office has called on the High Criminal Court to hand down the maximum sentence possible, which in this case would be the death penalty. Sheikh Salman’s trial is part of a wider initiative by the Bahraini government to silence political opposition ahead of the upcoming elections this fall. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) condemn to the utmost degree the government’s prosecution of Sheikh Ali Salman on arbitrary charges and call for the government to immediately and unconditionally release him.
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 is not only prosecuting one of the kingdom’s most prominent opposition leaders prior to elections, but also seeking his possible execution over baseless allegations. With the elections approaching for Bahrain’s lower house of parliament, 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 court’s decision to target Sheikh Ali Salman with charges that were clearly drudged up in order to undermine the voice of the opposition prior to the elections is absolutely egregious,” says Executive Director of ADHRB Husain Abdulla. “It is unacceptable that the Bahraini government continues to target opposition leaders for expressing their political opinions. The international community must come together to put pressure on Bahrain to release Sheikh Ali Salman, as well as all other prisoners of conscience, and reinstate all arbitrarily dissolved political societies.”
The further imprisonment and possible death penalty against Sheikh Ali Salman should be of extreme concern to the international community, especially as Bahrain enters into its election season. ADHRB, BIRD, and ECDHR call 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, including the European Union and key allies of Bahrain as the United States and United Kingdom, to pressure the Bahraini government to end its oppressive and systematic human rights violations, including its all-out crackdown on civil and political society.