Bahrain upholds nine-year jail sentence for opposition chief
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