Sheikh Ali Salman trial descends into farce

Sheikh Ali Salman was today denied in court the basic right to defend himself during the fifth and final hearing of his trial that has already revealed the major flaws in Bahrain’s justice system.

Defence lawyers described it as “shocking” and “a remarkable precedent” that the majority of the their case was rejected with the judge refusing to hear the arguments. They said the hearing was held only to announce the date of 16th June for sentencing and their right to present the defence case was fully removed.

It is yet another clear example that the right to fair trial is non-existent in Bahrain and that the authorities are using the full apparatus of the state to silence the country’s foremost opposition figure and Secretary General of Al Wefaq. The previous hearings have been racked with accusations of intimidation against the opposition, a lack of prosecution evidence and most worryingly the continued detention of the accused despite a lack of reasoning for the refusal of bail.

Sheikh Ali Salman has remained imprisoned since his arrest at the end of December 2014 and although no evidence has been brought to suggest he poses any threat to public security, requests from the defence for bail have been continuously denied.

This is a trial in which the bias of the system is brazenly obvious. The prosecution was permitted two sessions to highlight their case, whilst the defence was limited to only one hearing, during which much of the evidence was dismissed. The defence team say that in advance of todays hearing 6 large files were submitted for evidence with all being ignored. Meanwhile Sheikh Ali Salman was cut off just seconds into his defence testimony and denied the chance to continue.

The balance of justice is therefore undeniably absent with the scales firmly weighted on the side of the prosecution.

This does not bode well for the sentencing in one months time, in which lengthy prison time is expected to be handed to Salman, on top of the 6 months arbitrary detention he would already have served.

At the start of Salman’s arrest, international governments called for a fair trial. They must now accept that their call was not heeded and the trial was conducted in the poorest of manners and without the basic principle of neutrality. Given the Bahrain authorities ignorance of international calls, those states risk looking weak unless they unreservedly register their strong disproval of the process.

Even now a strong condemnation from the international community could play a major role in changing the intentions of Bahrain to enact a heavy sentence on the peaceful opposition leader. They have one month to act, to not just save Sheikh Ali Salman but to save justice in Bahrain. Any failure to do so will lead Bahrain down the path of further political turmoil, instability and a cycle of violence. For the sake of all, the international community must act now.

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