U.S. Embassy in Manama Urged to Send Observers to Ebrahim Sharif Criminal Trial
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on the U.S. Embassy in Manama to send observers to the trial against opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif, and to publicly state whether the trial meets international legal standards. Sharif, a leader of the peaceful opposition group Waad, is currently on trial in Bahrain for comments made during a speech calling for reform. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, October 12.
“Sharif should never have been arrested in the first place, and clearly demonstrates that Bahrain is not on a path to reform,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “We urge the United States to send trial monitors to Sharif’s hearings and raise due process concerns publicly. We also reiterate our call for the Bahraini authorities to immediately release him from prison and drop all charges.”
Sharif was arbitrarily arrested on July 12 for engaging in peaceful dissent. He had been released from prison just weeks before having served nearly all of a five-year sentence imposed for peacefully calling for reform in 2011. Sharif was tortured and convicted by a military court in 2011 with other peaceful opposition leaders in a violent government response to calls for reform.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges of “incitement to hatred and contempt of the regime” and “incitement to overthrow the regime by force and illegal means.” During the first hearing on August 24, Sharif reaffirmed his commitment to non-violence and said that the situation in Bahrain can only be solved through a peaceful political solution. If convicted, he faces up to 13 years in prison.
Sharif’s arrest came two weeks after the Obama Administration announced it was lifting its ban on arms sales to the Bahraini military, citing “meaningful progress on human rights.” Other leading opposition figures imprisoned in 2011 remain in jail, and the Bahrain government’s failure to reform since widespread pro-democracy protests broke out in February 2011 has resulted in years of instability.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-WA) have introduced legislation (S.2009), cosponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to ban the sale of small arms and ammunition to Bahrain until the government fully implements all 26 recommendations made by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Congressmen Joe Pitts (R-PA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Hank Johnson (D-GA) have introduced a counterpart in the House. Human Rights First applauds these bipartisan bills and urges Members of Congress to support this initiative.
“Bahrain needs a political solution to its crisis, and these negotiations can only begin once Sharif and other political leaders are out of jail,” noted Dooley. “The U.S. government should urgently reassess its decision to reward the Bahraini government with more weapons, in light of its continued targeting and prosecution of peaceful dissidents. By holding Bahrain accountable for implementing the human rights recommendations that it adopted in 2011 after the pro-democracy protests, the U.S. government would help to create urgently needed protections for peaceful dissent and meaningful dialogue on reforms.”