Bahrain: New verdict awaits one of the most prominent opposition leaders, Sheikh Ali Salman

Bahraini authorities arrested Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of Al-Wefaq Islamic National Society on December 28, 2014. He was sentenced by the Public Prosecution on June 16, 2015 to four years’ imprisonment for “Inciting hatred of the regime and Insulting the Ministry of the Interior” and was acquitted of the charge against the overthrow of the regime by force. On May 30, 2016, the Court of Appeal tightened the prison sentence to nine years instead of four years. On May 12, 2017, the Court of Cassation issued a decision to overturn the appeal rule and supported theinitial sentence of 4 years’ imprisonment.

The defense team of Shaikh Ali Salman confirmed that the video clips that the prosecution cited against Salman were fragmentary. During the hearing, the defense team presented the distortion and interpretation of Sheikh Ali Salman’s statements and that the prosecutor mentioned several statements which Salman did not mention at all. The defense team demanded the acquittal of Sheikh Ali Salman in all the charges brought against him.

Local and international human rights organizations have strongly condemned the prison sentence against prominent opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. “The ruling highlights blatant disregard by Bahrain for the right to freedom of expression,” said Samah Hadid, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East campaign.

Also said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch: “Sheikh Salman is the latest victim of the Bahrain war against the opposition, but it will not be the last unless Bahrain’s ally in London and Washington loudly protests this mock trial. This level of crackdown will not bring stability to Bahrain, but will lead to a completely opposite result”.

In September 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Sheikh Ali Salman and expressed concern about freedom of expression and fair trial procedures. The group demanded the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Sheikh Salman and his right to receive mandatory compensation by the government.

The Bahraini authorities have continued to target Sheikh Ali Salman instead of paying attention to the voices of the international community and the UN. On November 12, 2017, the Public Prosecution announced that the Secretary General of Al Wefaq Sheikh Ali Salman will be tried on charges of “communicating with the State of Qatar” as well as accusation against of two of his assistants Hassan Sultan and Ali Al Aswad. The trial will be held at the Supreme Criminal Court on charges of “communicating with Qatar for committing hostile acts inside Bahrain, damaging its military, political and economic status and national interests, undermining its prestige abroad and accepting monetary amounts from Qatar in return for supplying it with military secrets and information related to the internal situation in the country, and broadcast false and malicious news and rumors”.

It is noteworthy that these communications, which the Bahraini authorities are talking about had been following a US-Qatari initiative proposed in 2011 to contain the protests in the country and the parties of the initiative were: “The King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, former Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, former Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim, and former US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman as mediator, as well as the secretary-general of the Wefaq Sheikh Ali Salman by the opposition”.

These communications were made at the request of the King of Bahrain and all contacts and meetings were known to him and he was an essential party. The King and the Crown Prince were partners of the ruling family in the dialogue with Sheikh Ali Salman by the National Opposition at that time. The Public Prosecution provided fragmented communications and the montaged call happened with the former Qatari prime minister and converted that into a judicial file to settle internal and external unrest.

Bahrain’s state television broadcasted audio recordings in June 2017 that said it was “between Salman and Sultan on the one hand and Qatari officials on the other”.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry BICI reported in its report that Qatari contacts happened with the leadership of Al-Wefaq. Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Khalid Ahmad Al-Khalifa also said in a TV interview at the time that Qatar played a positive role in the internal crisis in 2011 and praised the efforts of Qatar. In a statement to the former Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Al- Jassem al-Thani said in a television interview that he called on the Bahraini authorities to present the entire recordings of the phone calls without fragmentation, and that the communications happened while Bahraini officials were informed.

The date of the final judgment in the case of telephone conversations with Qatar is on the 21st of June 2018, and the trial was set aside from the standards of fair trials. The court did not investigate the parties to the case, such as the King of Bahrain and his son, the Crown Prince.

It is clear that the charges against Sheikh Ali Salman and his assistants are serious, as Item (122) of the chapter on crimes against the foreign security of the state of the Bahraini Penal Code, which provides that “a person who has sought or engaged with a foreign state or with a person who acts in its interest to carry out hostile acts against the State of Bahrain shall be sentenced to death”.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights calls on the authorities in Bahrain to stop fabricating charges against Sheikh Ali Salman and to stop persecuting dissidents, rights activists for expressing their views or criticizing the performance of the authority or demanding political reform or transition to democracy. Any ruling against Sheikh Ali Salman according to the evidence of fragmented calls would be further proof of the dictatorship of power and the impartiality of the judiciary.

Accordingly, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights calls on:

1. The international community to press the Bahraini authorities to stop persecuting critics and human rights activists.
2. The Bahraini authorities to comply with international treaties and conventions and refrain from crushing dissidents for expressing their opinions.
3. The immediate release of Sheikh Ali Salman and all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.