Detention of Sheikh Ali Salman: A dangerous escalation

The Bahrain Justice And Development Movement is shocked to learn of the detention of Sheikh Ali Salman, Al Wefaq Secretary General. This is a highly dangerous move, that has potential to ignite the already tense situation in Bahrain, as well as an arbitrary move that reveals the true face of free expression in Bahrain.

On 28th December Sheikh Ali Salman attended the CID, following a summons received the day before, that had been delivered to his home by armed men. On two separate occasions his lawyers were not permitted entry to the interrogation, before finally being allowed to enter some 3 hours after Salman’s arrival to the CID. At 4pm, Abdullah Alshamlawi, a lawyer present to the interrogation, announced that Salman is facing a series of accusations including “attempting to overthrow the regime, inciting hatred against the regime, inciting hatred and violence” and other similar charges.

The lawyers were informed Salman would be detained on these charges and no further information was offered. Salman was able to make a phone call to his family only to say that he is being detained, before the phone was cut off, meaning his exact whereabouts remain unclear.

Such charges are no different to those faced by many political prisoners in Bahrain, including the 13 opposition figures that have been imprisoned since 2011. This is despite the recommendations of the BICI, UPR, countless international governments and NGO’s all calling for an end to the use of such false charges against opposition leaders.

In his role as Secretary General of Al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman has continuously called for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain and never once advocated the downfall of the regime. Indeed he has publicly pleaded with protesters to refrain from using such language, as well as to stay clear of the path of violence. Salman is a moderate, opposition leader who believes in positive engagement with the authorities to work towards democracy. Therefore the accusations against him are completely without base and nothing more than a pretext to attempt to silence an important political figure.

This move is the natural conclusion of the path that the authorities have taken in recent weeks in targeting Al Wefaq. Following the recent parliamentary elections, and Al Wefaq’s non-participation, the authorities have engaged in a series of measures to restrict the activity of Al Wefaq, as well as targeting their individuals.

It flies in the face of any attempt towards reconciliation or dialogue. As the leader of the largest opposition society, Sheikh Ali Salman should be facing officials for negotiations, not interrogations. The message from Bahrain is clear: No dialogue, no reconciliation, just repression and violence. If any single act could display this so clearly, it is the detention of Sheikh Ali Salman.

But it is evident that the authorities in Bahrain have felt renewed confidence following the elections to take this repressive path. The attitude of international governments towards Al Wefaq, for refusing to participate in the elections, has been viewed as a green light by those hardliners within the establishment who have always harboured intentions to wipe out Al Wefaq. Just recently the UK Ambassador to Bahrain, referred to Al Wefaq’s opposition to the new UK naval base in Bahrain, by proclaiming that it equates to the society opposing the fight against ISIS. This is despite the public speeches of Sheikh Ali Salman in which he pledged full support to the coalition fighting ISIS.

Such animosity against the peaceful opposition from international governments is the breeding ground for renewed repression.

Foreign diplomats have made clear their opposition to Al Wefaq’s position on the election, but this by no means should allow silence when the most important moderate opposition figure is arrested. Now is indeed the time for the international community to show exactly where it stands on Bahrain. If it fails to act in support of Salman and call for his immediate release, it is siding with the camp of tyranny and repression.

And worse it is siding with the inevitable deterioration of the crisis in Bahrain that will come with the sustained detention of Sheikh Ali Salman. Only a peaceful dialogue can bring about an end to the current crisis that is becoming increasingly violent.

Already the streets of Bahrain are flowing with anger and unless this move is immediately reversed Bahrain could be looking at its longest ever period of instability and crisis.

The Bahrain Justice And Development Movement calls for the international community to immediately call for the unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman, as an absolute minimum requirement of their responsibilities in Bahrain.

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