Sham trial covers arbitrary detention of Sheikh Ali Salman

Bahrain is  continuing to keep Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Al Wefaq, in detention whilst postponing his trial, to arbitrarily silence the opposition. The fourth hearing in the trial of Salman took place today and the request for bail was once again denied and the next hearing set for 20th May 2015. By this point Salman will have served a 5 month prison sentence, since his arrest at the end of December 2014.

To be clear, were the civil prosecution able to present any serious evidence Sheikh Ali Salman would already have been sentenced. The delaying of the judicial process is a testament to the fact that the authorities are unable to bring any evidence to support their false claims that Salman has incited violence, regime change and sectarianism. As was revealed by the defence witnesses in the court today, all evidence doesn’t just exonerate Salman but in fact proves the opposite is true; that Sheikh Ali Salman is Bahrain’s leading proponent of non-violent, peaceful activism towards a genuine constitutional monarchy.

Indefinitely detaining an accused individual whilst failing to provide evidence should be termed as what it really is; arbitrary and politicised detention. This cannot be classed as even a legal process, let alone a fair and just one. It is arbitrary detention thinly and poorly disguised as official judicial proceedings.

In this context it is vital that the international community reacts to this latest blow to free speech in Bahrain with the seriousness it warrants and at the minimum call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman. If the authorities wish to spend more time fine-combing the speeches of Salman in an attempt to find something incriminating it should be done on their time and not at the expense of the freedom of Salman. However much time is spent, the outcome will always be the same as there is not a single shred of evidence in any speech, or otherwise, by Salman that can link him to his accusations.

Furthermore the international community must understand what the ongoing detention of Salman means for political reform in Bahrain. Locking up the key opposition leader who should be engaged in talks is an undeniable signal that reform and dialogue are not on the agenda. Calls for dialogue in Bahrain are empty and hollow without an understanding that the Bahraini authorities have no intention to enact such a process. Bahrain continues to opt to repress its way out of the crisis, rather than reform.

This leaves Bahrain in an extremely dangerous place going forward, with the strategy of repression failing to lead Bahrain towards stability in the past 4 years. If Bahrain’s international allies take seriously the idea of dialogue and reform in Bahrain it starts with the release of Sheikh Ali Salman.

We call on the international community to understand this key fact and to act immediately to end the sham trial and travesty of justice that is the ongoing detention of Sheikh Ali Salman.

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