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Bahrain appeals court more than doubles opposition leader's sentence

In this Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, a Bahraini anti-government protester holding a stone and a picture of jailed Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Salman confronts police during clashes in Bilad Al Qadeem, Bahrain.
In this Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, a Bahraini anti-government protester holding a stone and a picture of jailed Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Salman confronts police during clashes in Bilad Al Qadeem, Bahrain.

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File

The following is a joint statement signed by bchr.org, adhrb.org and three other organisations on 30 May 2016.

On 30 May 2016, the Bahraini Court of Appeal toughened the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman. The Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society now faces nine years in prison, up from the previous sentence of four years. The court convicted him of “attempting to overthrow the regime.” The court previously acquitted him of this charge.

We, the undersigned NGOs, strongly condemn the Government of Bahrain increasing Sheikh Ali Salman's sentence – over free expression related charges – in a trial that lacked due process. We express grave concern over the authorities' continued prosecution and targeting of the country's political opposition figures, which undermine efforts exerted by these figures to democratize Bahrain.

Sheikh Ali Salman is the Secretary-General of the largest legally permitted political society in Bahrain, Al-Wefaq. On 28 December 2014, Bahraini security forces arrested Sheikh Ali Salman, just two days after his re-election as the society's Secretary General. He was arrested after delivering a speech calling for reforms to Bahrain's political system.

Six months later, on 16 June 2015, the Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman to four years in prison for “publicly inciting hatred, inciting civil disobedience of the law, and insulting public institutions” in his speeches. The court acquitted him of “attempting to overthrow the regime.” The court based the conviction on evidence found in Sheikh Ali Salman's speeches. The judge refused the defense team's request to present supporting evidence, including the recordings of the very speeches for which he was prosecuted.

Nearly one year later, the Court of Appeal has upheld the four-year imprisonment sentence of Sheikh Ali Salman, and further punished him for “attempting to overthrow the regime” – the charge of which the criminal court had previously acquitted him. Sheikh Ali Salman has demonstrated peacefulness in his actions and in his speeches. The Government of Bahrain has escalated its actions against him by extending his sentence. Sheikh Ali Salman is continuing to serve this sentence in Bahrain's Central Prison at Jau.

The Bahraini Government's actions indicate its disregard for the potential implementation of real political reforms, and for engagement with other political societies and figures in any form of dialogue. The authorities' targeting of opposition political figures and their societies is part of its policy to further stifle the opposition, and maintain the status quo for its own agenda.

In September 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared that the Government of Bahrain had arbitrarily detained Sheikh Ali Salman. This decision cited both free expression and due process concerns, and requested that the Bahraini government release Sheikh Salman immediately as well as provide him with an enforceable right to compensation against the government.

Sheikh Ali Salman is one of three opposition political societies' Secretary Generals currently in detention over charges in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary General of the Democratic Unity Gathering Society (Al-Wahdawi), was sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing the killing of civilians in the war on Yemen. On 12 July 2015, Ebrahim Sherif, former Secretary-General of Wa'ad Society, was re-arrested shortly after his release following five years in prison. This second arrest was due to a speech he delivered at a public event, in which he mentioned the authorities were committing human rights violations and called for political reform.

The government of Bahrain's prosecution, sentencing, and detention of prominent Bahraini political figures is in direct violation of international human right conventions, to which Bahrain is a signatory. These include the right to freedom of expression and to freedom of association, as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Article 19 and Article 22.

We call on the government of Bahrain to:

  • Reverse the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman and release him immediately, and unconditionally;
  • Cease targeting Sheikh Ali Salman and other political activists in Bahrain, and guarantee their freedom of expression; and
  • Ensure that political societies and activists are able to conduct their work in a safe and enabling environment, without fear of reprisal.

Signatories:

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

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