Sheikh Ali Salman to remain in arbitrary detention

The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement considers the ongoing detention of Sheikh Ali Salman to be a clear case of arbitrary detention and calls on the Bahraini authorities to release him immediately.

Yesterday, during the third hearing in his case, a request made by his lawyers for bail was once again denied. Sheikh Ali Salman has been in detention since 28th December 2014, and by his next hearing date (22nd April) he will have spent 4 months in prison. There is no justification for this period of detention and is equal to Salman serving a sentence before even being found guilty.

The international community has spoken of the need for Bahrain to follow “due legal process”, in relation to this case and others. Detaining an individual, who poses no risk to national security and has not been found guilty, for 4 months, and likely longer, is not due legal process by any fair international standard. It is for this reason that we consider the detention of Sheikh Ali Salman to be arbitrary and we therefore call on the international community to call for his immediate release.

We remain disturbed by reports from the hearings that suggest this is nothing more than a show trial. Defence lawyers claim that more than three-quarters of their questions of prosecution witnesses were dismissed, whilst the evidence presented was opinion based rather than factual. There are also reports of the judge “acting as part of the prosecution”.

Furthermore, we once again register our condemnation that the trial is even being pursued; it is an obvious example of political persecution. Sheikh Ali Salman is the leading opposition figure in Bahrain, in his role as Secretary-General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, and as such his targeting is an attack on all peaceful opposition and freedom of expression. His charges of inciting violence and regime change are fully inconsistent with every public statement and private diplomacy ever made by Salman and his society.

These are facts that are well known to both the authorities in Bahrain and its international allies, therefore there is no excuse for pursuing a trial that lacks in even a single shred of evidence. It can only be concluded that Salman is being detained and charged as an attempt to silence the opposition and punish them for their political activity.

The political implications of this case are deep and threaten to further destabilise the already tense situation. Whilst the leader of the main opposition society remains in detention there can be no prospect for dialogue. The message from the authorities is two-fold; we will lock away peaceful dissenters and we will refuse to engage on a path of reform.

This underlines the importance of the need for the international community to act swiftly in condemning the ongoing detention of Sheikh Ali Salman. It is counterproductive to call for dialogue, whilst refusing to call for the release of Salman. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights led the way in this regard, but calling for Salman’s immediate release when he was first detained in December. Now the rest of the international community must follow this example, or risk further blocking peaceful progress to reform in Bahrain.

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