Bahrain opted today to plunge itself deeper into crisis, keeping two opposition leaders behind bars. Majeed Milaad, a leading figure in Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, was sentenced to two years in prison, whilst the Society’s Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, remains in prison following the postponement of his appeal.
After almost 5 years of ongoing protests for greater democratic rule, a failing economy and heightened sectarian tensions, Bahrain has rejected the chance to make even the basic positive step of relaxing freedom of expression.
Instead Salman and Milaad, both of whom have been imprisoned for freely expressing their peaceful political opinions, remain silenced. Meanwhile other opposition leaders such as Ibrahim Shariff and thousands of other political prisoners are suffering the same fate. In Bahrain opposition is simply not tolerated.
Sheikh Ali Salman has been in detention since the end of December 2014 and in June was sentenced to 4 years in prison. The world’s highest human rights body, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, amongst other states and countless NGO’s, have repeatedly called for his release.
His appeal case was due to be heard today, but was instead postponed until 14th December. This is a dishonorable pattern that has been prevalent throughout the trial process of Salman, with his continued detention during the original 6-month trial period that resulted in a 4-year sentence in June this year.
It is a trial that has been widely cited as unfair and politicized. Salman was not even admitted into the courtroom today, and was again denied the right to even observe the relevant legal documents.
It is then no surprise that Al Wefaq have labeled the postponement an attempt to “buy time”, hoping to deflect international condemnation by delaying any decision. However the international community should refuse such sham tactics and take the lead of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in labeling Salman as “arbitrarily detained”.
To further compound the injustice against the opposition, Bahrain yesterday also sentenced Majeed Milaad to 2 years in prison. Milaad was arrested in June 2015 and has been held in detention since. He is accused of “incitement of public disobedience of the law”, a thinly veiled code term for political opposition. Like that of the Secretary General, Milaad has only ever called for peaceful demonstrations and greater democratic reforms.
In the most recent attempts at dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, Milaad was the head of the opposition delegation.
His trade of the negotiation table for a prison cell speaks volumes on the attitude Bahrain has to any concept of dialogue and reconciliation. As far as they are concerned it is off the agenda. There will be no talk of reform, no attempts to stem this crisis and only repression and silencing in its place.
These latest developments come just 2 weeks after UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond traveled to Bahrain, signaling the beginning of work on a new UK naval base in the Gulf state.
Either Hammond was ignored by Bahrain’s rulers, to end the campaign of intimidation against the opposition, or such a call was never made. Whichever the case it should be an eye-opener to the international community that they not are producing results if they wish to see Bahrain reform.
The tactic of private criticism and public support has failed to bring about any change in Bahrain’s behaviour – even the most basic recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry remain confined to the pages of that report and have been ignored in practice.
The Bahrain Justice And Development Movement calls on Bahrain to release Salman, Milaad and other prisoners of conscience. Furthermore we call for real, unequivocal condemnation from Bahrain’s allies. Failure to do so only serves to embolden Bahrain in its repressive path that will see the long term stability and security of the country, and region, harmed.