Peace Behind Bars: Trial of Peaceful Opposition Leader in Bahrain Ends With Life Imprisonment

 By Reema Shallan 

#FreeSheikhAli #Bahrain

As we approach eight years since the start of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, the aspirations of the Bahraini people, for freedom, equality and reform, have still not been met. Instead, their fundamental human rights have been continually violated.

The arbitrary four-year prison sentence of prominent Bahraini opposition figure Sheikh Ali Salman, for calling for reforms, would have expired today on 27 December 2018. Yet in a second case against him, late in November Bahrain’s Appeal Court overturned an earlier acquittal and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The court convicted him and two codefendants of leaking sensitive information to Qatar, a fellow member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These malicious charges coincided with the onset of the Gulf crisis in June 2017.

Unequivocally, Sheikh Salman is a prisoner of conscience. He is the secretary-general of the largest opposition party in Bahrain and one of countless victims of the brutal crackdown which has left no peaceful dissident unscathed.

The authorities based their accusations on a fragmented recording of a telephone conversation in 2011 between Sheikh Ali Salman and Qatar’s former Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim. At that time, Bin Jassim had been suggested by the US government as a possible mediator during the Bahraini crisis. Furthermore, the bilateral relations between Bahrain and Qatar were close.

On 2 June, the Court of First Instance acquitted Sheikh Salman, but the Public Prosecution appealed against this sentence. Then on November 4, the Court of Appeal revoked the verdict and sentenced him to life imprisonment, in an unfair trial that violated Sheikh Salman’s right to defend himself.

Seemingly, Sheikh Salman’s sentence has been issued as a means of settling scores with Doha, in light of the deepening Gulf dispute and following Qatar’s extensive media coverage of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October.

Bahrain’s allies, foremost among them the US, merely expressed its concern over this unfair verdict, releasing an ineffective statement. This is despite the fact that the US was a key party in Bahrain’s mediation efforts in 2011.

Indeed, the continued support of the repressive policies against the peaceful opposition only encourages the Government of Bahrain to pursue its blatant violations.

Sheikh Ali Salman has long aspired to ensure a prosperous future for all Bahrainis. His ultimate concern is to break Bahrain’s ongoing deadlock and to secure stability and security in his homeland.

It is clear that Bahrain’s international allies are not exerting sufficient efforts to encourage the government to enact comprehensive reforms.

The Bahraini people have been oppressed for decades. However, they are still determined, and have proved to the world that they will not give up on their right to a decent life. Bahrainis are committed to continuing their struggle until freedom is realised. It is inevitable that one day they will achieve their goals.