By Lawyer Reema Shaalan
*Wife of Shiekh Ali Salman, prisoner of conscience and the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq, the largest dissolved political opposition bloc in Bahrain
On 28 December 2017, Sheikh Ali Salman completes three years of imprisonment, after his arrest on 28 December 2014. He was arrested for demanding the establishment of a civil state, in which citizens would have equal rights and duties.
Sheikh Ali Salman is the head of the largest opposition group in Bahrain, which advocates a political reform that meets Bahraini people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy. He was arrested on charges that are essentially fundamental rights, stipulated in the international covenants, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Despite the Bahraini government’s ratification of these international covenants, it punished Sheikh Salman for he upholds Bahrainis’ rights to freedom, equality and justice. These rights are in harmony with the principles of human dignity, and constitute the stability cornerstone of any society.
On 3 April 2017, the Bahraini judiciary sentenced Sheikh Salman to four years in prison on charges related to the freedom of expression. Indeed, the judiciary utilizes its powers to punish political activists and dissidents who express their desire for a peaceful transition toward democracy.
Moreover, Sheikh Salman has maintained his innocence before the judiciary. He supported Bahraini’s right to democracy and an end to tyranny. During his trial, which lacked any standards of a fair trial, he made a pleading in which he expressed:
“The reason behind my imprisonment is that I call for the natural right to freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. I demand a human order in which all Bahrainis live honorably, feel their value as free equal citizens and secure the future of their children”.
In fact, the Bahraini law authorizes the release of a sentenced person after completing three-quarters of his imprisonment. However, it seems that the government of Bahrain determines to keep Sheikh Ali Salman much longer behind prison bars.
Besides that, the government have initiated a new criminal case against him related to communicating with a foreign state, Qatar, which carries death penalty. The Public Prosecution’s false accusation was based on phone calls between Sheikh Ali Salman and the Qatari officials. At that time, Sheikh Salman was the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition bloc in Bahrain and licensed by the government.
These calls were part of the Gulf-US mediation to resolve the political crisis in Bahrain, also documented in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and were handed over to the King of Bahrain.
It is worth mentioning that the King established the BICI, and appointed them it with the task of investigating the incidents that took place in the country during the 2011 protests. Seemingly, this issue is a tool of revenge for settling accounts in light of the current Gulf crisis.
Furthermore, Sheikh Salman have always believed that dialogue is the ideal solution, and he has continually taken a clear stand by condemning violence and urged to peaceful demonstrations in order to fulfil the opposition demands.
Even though losing your freedom is harsh, Sheikh Ali Salman behind bars still calls upon Bahrainis to continue their popular movement towards freedom, justice and reforms. He stresses that this is the only choice despite all the sacrifices.
Sheikh Salman is temporarily serving a prison term in the central prison of Jau with other Bahraini opposition figures. Those figures were arrested for calling for democracy, in the aftermath of February 2011 unrest, and they are sentenced to extended and lengthy prison terms, some of which are life time imprisonment.
The immediate release of Sheikh Ali Salman and all prisoners of conscience is obliviously an absolute need. A release that will greatly help to sustain stability in Bahrain, which has been suffering unrest since February 2011. Since then, peaceful protests are being repressed by the use of excessive force, dozens of casualties were documented and thousands of citizens were detained on charges of freedom of expression.
Undoubtedly, Bahrain’s efforts to refine its image will not succeed in concealing its repressive crackdown on all forms of peaceful opposition. Thus, if the authority is in fact interested in improving its reputation, it must tolerate the peaceful opposition, release Sheikh Ali Salman and all prisoners of conscience and take effective steps towards real reform through genuine dialogue.