New Ambassador to Bahrain Urged to Call for Release of Opposition Leader Ali Salman
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the new U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain William Roebuck to call for the release of Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Bahraini opposition group Al Wefaq. The call came in a letter to the ambassador, who arrives in Manama this week to assume his post, highlighting the escalating political tensions in the kingdom and asking the ambassador to protect peaceful Bahraini ciivil society leaders facing harassment from the government.
“We watched with alarm as Bahrain authorities moved against leading civil society figures, sentencing activists to prison and arresting and charging opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman with speech-related offenses,” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “The U.S. government has recognized that Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest could inflame tensions. But despite the fact that he appears to have been detained for exercising his right to free expression, it has not called for his release. We urge you to do so, and we hope you will take a public interest in this and other cases in which people have been targeted for exercising their freedoms of expression, assembly, or association.”
Ali Salman was detained on December 26 and is accused of various offenses including inciting hatred. The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that the arrest of Ali Salman could inflame tensions. To demonstrate ongoing U.S. interest in Ali Salman’s case, Human Rights First called on Ambassador Roebuck to send a representative from the embassy to the court hearings in the Ali Salman case and to assess and state publicly whether the process meets international fair trial standards.
The organization also encouraged Ambassador Roebuck to monitor the cases of other peaceful activists in prison, including that of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who is charged with offending government ministries on Twitter and is expected to receive a verdict on January 20.
“We urge you to use your first few weeks in Bahrain to make clear—through your meetings, public statements, and actions—that the U.S. government supports and will seek to protect peaceful civil society activists facing harassment by the government,” added Massimino.