The Bahrain court that today sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman to 9 years in prison was nothing more than a politically motivated, biased and repressive show trial, in its most crudest form.
Following 5 years of repressive moves to try to crush calls for democratic reform, this is the most starkest and blatant example of Bahrain’s true identity. A regime that is hell bent on keeping an iron fist over its people, that fears any possibility of democratic change and will lock away any and all voices that promote an alternative to dictatorship.
Today’s hearing was presided over by judge Mohammad Bin Ali AlKhalifa, a member of the royal family. Rather than reduce the previous 4 year sentence handed out to Salman, or drop the charges as defence lawyers had pushed for, he upheld charges that had previously been dropped. He sentenced Salman to a total of 9 years in prison on charges that include promoting the overthrow of the political system, inciting hatred against a sect, inciting non-adherence to the law and insulting a statutory body.
A court that is presided over by the ruling family, rejects solid legal appeals, upholds previously quashed charges, refutes all serious evidence and invents new charges is part of a judiciary that is not fit for purpose. It flys in the face of any sense of a well-informed and fair judicial system and is a purpose built system of show trials, biased decisions and revenge.
Furthermore this decision is a direct attack on the idea of reform or even a basic process of reconciliation and dialogue. Sheikh Ali Salman is the head of the most moderate opposition society, an advocate of peaceful protest towards a constitutional monarchy in which people’s basic rights are respected. He has called for an inclusive political system that works to the benefit of all Bahrainis, regardless of sect or other background.
To therefore lock this individual away for 9 years is direct evidence that Bahrain will continue down the path it has already carved out, of silencing dissent and stopping at nothing to crush the democratic aspirations of the people of Bahrain. Whilst this may be the strategy, it as a flawed one that will only lend to further chaos and instability. Bahrain cannot repress its way out of crisis and moves such as seen today set Bahrain further back towards an uncertain future.
Herein lies a lesson for the international community as a whole. World leaders are constantly calling for peaceful solutions, stability and an end to violence, especially with regards to the Middle East.. Here is the moment where their voices must be heard in Bahrain, if those are the values they truly support. Sheikh Ali Salman has stood behind those principles his entire life and therefore the international community must see him as one of their own, and extend to him their protection, solidarity and support.
The mask has once again slipped from Bahrain and all the PR in the world cannot hide the extent of this crime, that condemns not only one man but an entire nation.
For all of those who have an interest in Bahrain, whether it be political, economic or otherwise, now is the time to stand up and be counted. Unequivocal condemnation must be registered and the message to Bahrain must be clear, that enough is enough. This time there will be no wilful ignorance, no whitewashing and no glossing over. This conviction against Sheikh Ali Salman is about the future of Bahrain.