Bahrain up­holds nine-year jail sen­tence for op­po­si­tion chief

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Bahrain’s Ap­peals Court yes­ter­day up­held a nine-year jail sen­tence against op­po­si­tion chief Sheikh Ali Sal­man, a ju­di­cial source said, the lat­est move in a crack­down on the Shi­ite ma­jor­ity. The sen­tence against Sal­man, for in­cit­ing ha­tred and call­ing for regime change by force, had been over­turned by the court of cas­sa­tion in Oc­to­ber. Sal­man, 51, is con­sid­ered a mod­er­ate who has pushed for a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy in Bahrain.

His ar­rest in De­cem­ber 2014, in con­nec­tion with speeches he had given, sparked protests in Shi­ite-ma­jor­ity Bahrain. Hu­man Rights Watch said he was ar­rested and charged “de­spite the fact Sal­man re­nounced vi­o­lence and called for peace­ful protest in his speeches”. The charis­matic Shi­ite cleric was sen­tenced in July 2015 to four years in jail af­ter be­ing con­victed of in­cit­ing ha­tred in the Gulf king­dom. But the ap­peals court in May more than dou­bled his jail term to nine years af­ter re­vers­ing an ear­lier ac­quit­tal on charges of call­ing for regime change by force.

The court of cas­sa­tion over­turned that sen­tence on Oc­to­ber 17 and or­dered a re­trial be­fore the ap­peals court. It also re­jected a re­quest to re­lease the cleric. In July, a court or­dered the dis­so­lu­tion of Sal­man’s Al-We­faq move­ment for “har­bor­ing ter­ror­ism”, in­cit­ing vi­o­lence and en­cour­ag­ing demon­stra­tions which threat­ened to spark sec­tar­ian strife. The de­ci­sion drew strong crit­i­cism from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Bahrain’s al­lies in Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don, and Shi­ite-dom­i­nated Iran. Al-We­faq had the largest bloc in par­lia­ment be­fore law­mak­ers walked out in Fe­bru­ary 2011 in protest over a deadly crack­down on Arab Sprin­gin­spired protests.

Bahrain has harshly cracked down over the past five years on dis­sent by the Shi­ite ma­jor­ity, which they ac­cuse of be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by Iran. The num­ber of ar­rests and tri­als have spi­raled. The king­dom stripped 31 Shi­ite ac­tivists of their na­tion­al­ity in Oc­to­ber 2012 for breach­ing state se­cu­rity, and Hu­man Rights Watch says most of them have been left state­less. Bahrain has re­peat­edly ar­rested and de­tained other op­po­si­tion lead­ers, in­clud­ing Na­bil Ra­jab, the founder of the Bahrain Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights.

Ra­jab was most re­cently ar­rested on June 13 for com­ments on his Twit­ter ac­count that crit­i­cized the king­dom’s role in Saudi Ara­bia-led mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Ye­men, ac­cord­ing to HRW. The New York-based rights watch­dog yes­ter­day is­sued a state­ment call­ing for Ra­jab’s im­me­di­ate re­lease, say­ing the charges against him “in­her­ently vi­o­late the right to free ex­pres­sion”. It has in the past crit­i­cized the si­lence of Bahrain’s Western al­lies as the king­dom has “filled its jails with the peo­ple who hold the key to the po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion the UK and US claim to sup­port”. Sal­man holds a bach­e­lors de­gree in math­e­mat­ics from Saudi Ara­bia and in 1987 headed to Iran’s holy city of Qom to study Is­lamic Stud­ies at the Shi­ite school of cler­ics.

He was widely con­sid­ered one of the lead­ers of an up­ris­ing in the 1990s and he was ar­rested sev­eral times by the author­i­ties. Af­ter six years in ex­ile, he re­turned to Bahrain in 2001 un­der a gen­eral amnesty. Upon his re­turn home, Sal­man set up AlWe­faq Na­tional Is­lamic So­ci­ety with other Shi­ite op­po­si­tion fig­ures and was elected sec­re­tary gen­eral in 2006. Al-We­faq boy­cotted elec­tions in 2002 but ran in 2006, win­ning al­most half the seats of the 40mem­ber par­lia­ment. It held onto its seats in the next polls in 2010, but Al-We­faq law­mak­ers with­drew in 2011 in protest at the “re­pres­sion” of the Shi­ite-led protests. The move­ment is ap­peal­ing against its dis­so­lu­tion. —AFP

AZ ZINJ, Bahrain: A Bahraini man holds a plac­ard bear­ing the por­trait of Sheikh Ali Sal­man, head of the Shi­ite op­po­si­tion move­ment Al-We­faq, dur­ing a protest against his ar­rest, in the vil­lage of Zinj on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal Manama. —AFP

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