Towards int’l efforts to release Sheikh Ali Salman: BPA statement

Fatemeh Al-Zahra World Television: The London-based Bahrain Press Association issued a statement on Wednesday (January 20, 2021) in which it said that there are regional and international developments that once again brought back the case of Al-Wefaq Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman, to the front pages.

The association explained that “with the announcement of the end of the [Persian] Gulf crisis at the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council summit hosted by the Saudi city of Al-Ala, in early January, and the entry of US President Joe Biden to the White House, and with the expectation that human rights issues will receive special attention from the administration of the new US president, demands for the release of the secretary general of Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, who is serving a life sentence, have increased.”

The following is the BPA statement:

Sheikh Ali Salman is spending his 6th year behind bars after a judicial trial which local and international human rights organizations deemed an official political retaliation against the pro-reform stances and demands Sheikh Ali Salman adopts, being one of the most prominent opposition figures in Bahrain.

Starting with his summons on December 27, 2014, Sheikh Ali Salman faced his trial session on charges of “promoting to change the regime through violence”, “inciting hatred against a sect and insulting the Interior Ministry”. As a result, Sheikh Salman was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

As the [Persian] Gulf crisis began in mid-June 2017, Bahrain’s public prosecution decided to bring charges against Sheikh Ali Salman, including “collaborating with Qatar, and spreading military information” after the Bahraini authorities published out-of-context segments from a 2011 conversation with former Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani. For his part, the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq confirmed that the call was made with the knowledge of the Royal Court, and that it was a part of the mediation efforts to resolve the political crisis in Bahrain mediated by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Al-Wefaq published the full phone call conversation.

While the court of first instance acquitted Sheikh Ali Salman and other Al-Wefaq leaders from the charges against them, the appeals and cassation courts convicted them and sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman to life imprisonment.

Al-Wefaq Dissolution and Law of Political Isolation

The trial of the (dissolved) Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, raised sharp criticism from international human rights institutions, which described the trial as not living up to the standards of fair trials.

After Salman’s trial, the state illegally dissolved Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and National Democratic Labour Action Society (Wa’ad) and introduced the “political isolation” law that prevents a wide range of Bahrainis from enjoying their political rights in the country, including the right to stand for election and vote in parliamentary and municipal elections.

Today, the arrest and trial of Sheikh Ali Salman is considered a “political” case despite the Bahraini authorities attempt to change his case, and most of the detainees’ cases related to political positions and issues related to freedom of opinion and expression, into criminal cases.

The [Persian] Gulf reconciliation which Bahrain accepted at the recent Al-Ala summit reveals the nullity of the government’s claims and accusations against Sheikh Ali Salman, and automatically negates the charge of collaborating with Qatar, which was essentially only a pretext for implementing a political decision, that aims at imprisoning Sheikh Ali Salman and dissolving Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition society in the country.

It is hoped that there will be a vigorous effort on the part of Western capitals, notably Washington, and local and international human rights institutions, to release Sheikh Ali Salman and all those convicted in cases related to freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain. It is also hoped that the new Bahraini government, headed by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, will respond to these demands, which would be serious implementation of the human rights obligations that the Government of Bahrain has pledged to fulfil before the international community.

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