Bahrain Accusing Al Wefaq SG Sheikh Ali Salman of Spying: yet another chorus amid the volatile political situation in the GCC

Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, is now accused of spying for Qatar in a case that is related to a 2011 phone call -that parts of it was later broadcasted online- with the former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim who was a mediator for a joint Saudi-US initiative to resolve the political crisis in Bahrain. An initiative that was mentioned and referred in the BICI report and already supported by the King of Bahrain, followed-up by the Crown Prince and praised by Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Only on the 1st of November of this month the Public Prosecution summoned Sheikh Ali Salman for thecharges of communicating with the State of Qatar “a foreign country to commit hostile acts against Bahrain, with the intention of damaging Bahrain’s political and economic status and its national interests in order to overthrow the regime”.

The charges also included: “delivering and disclosing secrets of defense to a foreign country, accepting money from foreign countries in return for providing military secrets, as well as broadcasting false news to damage the prestige of the kingdom”. These charges are quite critical and serious for which he could face harsh sentences in a court that lacks minimal standards of justice and fairness. Additionally, two other former Al Wefaq MPs Hasan Sultan and Ali Al Aswad are accused in this very same case.

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights learnt that Sheikh Ali Salman completely denied these charges as he found them false and misinterpreted. The Public Prosecution, however, quickly referred the case to a Bahraini court on the 12th of November without him or his lawyer being even informed. The court’s first hearing is now scheduled on the 27th of November this year.

It is worth mentioning that Sheikh Ali Salman is already now serving four years in jail at Jau Central Prison- a long term prison facility in Bahrain. He was deceitfullycharged for “inciting hatred and calling for regime change by force”, the court in Manama ruled on the 16thof June 2015.

The 51-year-old Sheikh Ali Salman, an opposition leader who called for a constitutional monarchy in the country, was detained on 28th of December 2014, sparking protests in the country. He was later sentenced to four years in jail. The appeals court then more than doubled his sentence, to nine years, in May 2016. In 3rd of April 2017, the court of cassation overturned that ruling to four years again.

Jalila Al Sayed, one of Sheikh Ali Salman’s multiple lawyers said in a previous statement: “We strongly believe that Sheikh Ali Salman never had the intention of calling for the overthrow of the regime by force and never called for violence, because he is not convinced of such an approach”.

Moreover, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society was dissolved after a court ruled that the group had “encouraged violence and mass demonstrations”. Al-Wefaq was shut down in 14th of June 2016 under an emergency court order after the Justice Ministry accused it of “undermining the state, spreading sectarianism, and having connections to terrorist activities”. Bahraini authorities immediately seized and shut down Al Wefaq’s headquarters. They also confiscated the society’s assets and halted all of its activities. Additionally, Bahraini officials blocked Al Wefaq’s website in the kingdom.

Al-Wefaq was the largest opposition group in the parliament’s 40-seat Council of Representatives until 2011, when 18 of its members resigned in protest against the government’s crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations.

This verdict immediately drew fire from critics and international rights groups like Amnesty International, part of an ongoing calls for the government to cease its crackdown on the opposition.

“This shocking verdict is another example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty’s Middle East Deputy Director of Campaigns, Samah Hadid, said in a statement. “The international community can no longer turn a blind eye to the Bahraini authorities’ relentless persecution of government critics and human rights activists with the sole purpose of crushing any form of peaceful dissent or opposition to the government”.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights said the conviction violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory.

Bahrain has grappled with sporadic turmoil since an uprising in 2011 that demanded democratic reforms and a real role in the government. That revolt was put down with military assistance from neighboring Saudi Arabiaand United Arab Emirates.

Scores have died in periodic unrest which has flared despite the suppression of the original uprising, and efforts at genuine dialogue between the opposition and the regime have failed since then.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights still believesin the urgency for human rights progression at all levels and the pressing need to stop targeting citizens who try to voice their aspirations towards a country that respects their dignity and allows them their rights in freedom of expression and opinion.

Instead of linking its own GCC political emergency with the opposition, Bahrain should actually work on resolving its continuing human rights crisis.

We again call on the government of Bahrain to start a genuine dialogue with all parties of the opposition and to release all prisoners of conscience including Al Wefaq SG Sheikh Ali Salman.