Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Al Wefaq National Islamic society, Bahrain’s largest opposition party, was today sentenced to 4 years in prison. It comes following his 6-month arbitrary detention, 5 heavily biased court sessions and a swift verdict this morning. Amnesty International have described it as “shocking“.
This is both an individual travesty of justice but moreover a slam of the door that leads to any possible reform, reconciliation or even dialogue.
To lock away for 4 years the leading opposition figure in the country, a figurehead whose political activism has centred around peacefulness, is an undeniable message: Bahrain is not open to dialogue for at least another 4 years and repression is the only way to deal with the opposition.
In real terms this means Bahrain will continue to remain in crisis indefinitely. A crisis that has already lasted 4 years will stretch at least to near a decade. Already it has torn at the very fabric of society, undermining tolerance, respect, safety and harmony and replacing these values with fear, distrust, insecurity and violence.
Bahrain has deteriorated economically, politically and socially already. Instead of being a beacon of hope for the region it has been a stark example of what happens when society is ignored and rulers do so with an arrogance that only they have the right to make decisions.
A rapid move away from this strategy is needed if Bahrain ever has hope to move back on the right track. The sentencing of Sheikh Ali Salman is the nail in the coffin for those who believe Bahrain can reform internally without international pressure.
Bahrain does not want to reform. It uses cosmetic and phoney tactics to avoid public pressure, but this is a country that believes the leading opposition figure should be in prison. Bahrain’s international allies must now act swiftly and accordingly to push for this decision to be reversed. This must come in the form of a full and clear public rebuttal of this shameful decision.
If these calls are then ignored Bahrain must face the consequences of international isolationism and an end to defence and trade contracts with the west. It is the duty of democratic states to help pursue reform in Bahrain and not to turn a blind eye to brazen human rights violations and democratic deficiency.
The poor human rights situation in Bahrain has been obvious to all serious observers of Bahrain over the past 4 years. It shouldn’t take the locking away of the leading opposition figure to expose this, but there can be no stronger and more obvious example than this. Arguing that Bahrain is moving in the right direction is no longer an option.
We therefore call on the UK, US, German and French governments, as well as the European Union and United Nations to make publicly clear their rejection of this sentence and to actively work to secure the release of Sheikh Ali Salman; Bahrain’s peaceful opposition leader, wrongly incarcerated and denied justice.