Conviction of Bahraini Opposition Leader is a Major Setback to Reform
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First said today’s conviction of the leader of Bahrain’s main peaceful opposition group Al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, on political charges seriously damages any hope for a political settlement in the island kingdom. He was sentenced to four years in prison after an unfair trial.
“Today’s verdict against Ali Salman drives Bahrain deeper into political crisis and sweeps any chance of a negotiated settlement off the table, ” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Sending the leader of the main opposition group to jail for peaceful protests only encourages those pushing for violent change. How the U.S. government responds to today’s verdict is a major test of the Obama Administration’s vision for the region. The administration shouldn’t sit back and allow its ally to lock up the leader of the moderate opposition without taking serious action.”
Ali Salman was first arrested on December 28, 2014 on charges including attempting to overthrow the regime and colluding with foreign powers. He has been in custody since that time despite the government having produced no evidence that he has advocated or committed any violence. His legal team has not been permitted to offer an adequate defense during his trial, which opened on January 28.
In response to Ali Salman’s arrest and trial, there have been regular street protests in Bahrain, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for his immediate release, as they first did shortly after his arrest. While the U.S. government has expressed concern about his case and called for “due process” to be followed, it has fallen short of calling for his release.
Ali Salman is the leader of the kingdom’s largest opposition group al Wefaq, which boycotted Bahrain’s November 2014 parliamentary elections citing an unfair electoral process. Other leading opposition figures imprisoned in 2011 remain in jail, and the Bahrain government’s failure to reform since widespread prodemocracy protests broke out in February 2011 has resulted in years of instability.
“Silencing peaceful dissent is a script we’ve seen before, from Egypt to Guatemala to Zimbabwe. It never ends well,” added Dooley.