Bahrain op­po­si­tion lead­ers get life term over Qatar spy­ing case

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Bahrain’s ap­peals court has sen­tenced three se­nior mem­bers of the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion move­ment to life in prison over charges of spy­ing for neigh­bor­ing Qatar, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor.

The ver­dict against Sheikh Ali Sal­man, who headed the now-out­lawed al-We­faq move­ment, as well as Sheikh Has­san Sul­tan and Ali al-Aswad came on Sun­day, months af­ter their ac­quit­tal by the high crim­i­nal court in June. The trio was sen­tenced for “acts of hos­til­ity” against Bahrain and “com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Qatari of­fi­cials... to over­throw con­sti­tu­tional or­der”, the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor’s state­ment said. The lat­est rul­ing can be ap­pealed.

Sal­man is cur­rently serv­ing a four-year sen­tence in a sep­a­rate case – “in­cit­ing ha­tred” in the tiny Per­sian Gulf state, which has seen protests since 2011.

In Novem­ber, Sal­man and two other mem­bers of al-We­faq were charged with work­ing for Qatari in­tel­li­gence with the aim of over­throw­ing the Bahraini gov­ern­ment.

Rights groups, in­clud­ing Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW), have de­clared Sal­man and other jailed op­po­si­tion lead­ers pris­on­ers of con­science.

Sima Watling, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s cam­paigner on Bahrain, told Al Jazeera from Beirut that the ver­dict was “ab­surd”.

She said that Sal­man had phone con­ver­sa­tions with the for­eign min­is­ter of Qatar in 2011, urg­ing Doha to me­di­ate in Bahrain’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, and the in­ter­ac­tion was used six years later as a proof for spy­ing charges.

“The new charges are ab­surd,” Watling said. “It ap­pears to be linked to the Qatar cri­sis and the Bahraini au­thor­i­ties are go­ing for­ward with their crush on dis­sent. Any op- po­si­tion or op­pos­ing voice is be­ing crushed.”

Bahrain, along with the House of Saud regime and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), sev­ered all ties with Qatar in 2017, ban­ning their ci­ti­zens from travel to or com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the fel­low Per­sian Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil mem­ber.

Sun­day’s ver­dict comes days ahead of Bahrain’s Novem­ber 24 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Mem­bers of dis­solved op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing al-We­faq and the sec­u­lar al-Waad group, are banned from run­ning.

The tiny Per­sian Gulf state has been hit by waves of un­rest since 2011 when se­cu­rity forces crushed protests de­mand­ing a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy and an elected prime min­is­ter. Op­po­si­tion move­ments have been out­lawed and hun­dreds of dis­si­dents have been im­pris­oned - with many stripped of their na­tion­al­ity. Bahrain last year rat­i­fied a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment grant­ing mil­i­tary courts the au­thor­ity to try civil­ians charged with “ter­ror­ism”, a term that is loosely de­fined by the Bahraini pe­nal code.

In June, the king­dom amended its law on po­lit­i­cal rights, pro­hibit­ing “lead­ers and mem­bers of po­lit­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions dis­solved for vi­o­lat­ing the king­dom’s con­sti­tu­tion or its laws” from run­ning in leg­isla­tive elec­tions.

Bahrain, a key ally of the United States and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, ac­cuses re­gional power house Iran of pro­vok­ing un­rest in the king­dom. Iran cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nies the al­le­ga­tions.

The United Na­tions and rights groups in­clud­ing Amnesty and HRW have crit­i­cized the Bahraini monar­chy over its treat­ment of pro­test­ers.

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