The 2011 US Halted Initiative to Resolve Bahrain’s Political Crisis

On 28 December 2018, Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary-General of the main opposition political group in Bahrain, completes a four-year sentence based on a trial, which lacks justice standards and it is a reprisal against his peaceful struggle for democracy. He is imprisoned along with the rest of the opposition figures, who are almost sentenced to life imprisonment, under harsh conditions of detention and severe restrictions.

Unequivocally, the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman in 2014 and targeting him consciously is a link in the long chain of silencing the dissidents in Bahrain. This clampdown attempts at suppressing the popular protests, which have been heldon a daily basis since February 2011, demanding freedom and democracy.

The essential principles of Sheikh Ali Salman’s strife are indeed to provide all citizens freedom and justice on an equal basis. This can only be achieved through their participation in the conduct of their public affairs and not to grant this privilege to the ruling family alone. This right has been evidently affirmed under the relevant international conventions and the Bahraini Constitution.

In November 2017, the Public Prosecutor’s Office charged Sheikh Ali Salman for with communicating with Qatar. The charge was released after the Gulf relations with the State of Qatar witnessed severe tension in June 2017. According to the Bahraini Foreign Minister’s statement, quoted by the Bahrain News Agency on 27 May 2018, “Currently, there is no glimmer of hope of resolving the crisis with Qatar.”

Actually, the Public Prosecutor’s Office bases its accusations against Sheikh Ali Salman on the well-known telephone call between Sheikh Ali Salman; in his capacity as the secretary-general of the main opposition political licensed group then, with the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, in 2011. By that time, Qatar; whose membership is suspended now, was a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and a friendly state to Bahrain. Besides, the Bahraini authorities did not express any explicit or implied stance that would be understood as a ban on communication with Qatar.

In fact, this call has been widely integrated into the US initiative in March 2011 to resolve the Bahraini crisis. In addition, it has been documented in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry; founded by the King of Bahrain to investigate the 2011 events.

Although the Bahraini official media published only a clip from the call, the issues that were discussed during that dialogue do not violate the laws but emphasise the peaceful approach to resolve the 2011 crisis.

These charges are not based on any reliable evidence. They are utilised just to promote the Gulf dispute with the State of Qatar. Furthermore, the Public Prosecution has failed to provide the full original recording of the telephone call before the court.

On the other hand, Sheikh Ali Salman’s defence team has presented exculpatory evidence before the court. This evidence affirms that the call; on which the charges are based on, has been clipped, fragmented and manipulated. Additionally, Professor Chibli Mallat; a law professor and one of the mediators assigned by the US administration who witnessed the US-Gulf initiative has testified.

Ten hearings have passed before the court and the final verdict is due to be issued on 21 June 2018. Although a representative of the US Embassy attended the trial sessions, the U.S. has not yet announced its objection to this trial or demanded the release of Sheikh Ali Salman. Beyond doubt, the American ignorance upon this case contradicts its ethical obligations. The call was absolutely among the U.S. initiative to resolve the Bahraini crisis, which continues escalating after seven consecutive years of political unrest.

Obviously, the U.S.’s negative silence will encourage the Bahraini authorities to severely convict Sheikh Ali Salman. If it frequently expresses its efforts to promote democracy everywhere, subsequently the U.S. must exert effective pressure on the Bahraini government to rescind this unfair trial and unconditionally release Sheikh Ali Salman.

Whatever the verdict may be releasedagainst him, Sheikh Ali Salman is a courageous advocate of democracy and any punishment would not change his request of political reform.

Rima Shaalan

Lawyer

Wife of Sheikh Ali Salman

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