STATEMENT
Political speech is not a crime: Urgent appeal to stop the trial of opposition society leader Sheikh Ali Salman

NGOs call on Bahraini authorities to drop all charges and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Bahrain's largest political opposition society, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.

20 Jun 2018
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

We the undersigned call on Bahraini authorities to drop all charges and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Bahrain’s largest political opposition society, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, who has been serving a four-year prison sentence for charges in response to political speeches he delivered in 2014, and who is now facing a potential death sentence in a groundless new trial on politically motivated charges.

Since his incarceration in 2014, several international bodies have spoken out against the imprisonment of Sheikh Ali Salman. On 30 December 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson urged Bahrain to immediately release Sheikh Ali Salman as well as all other persons convicted or detained for “merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.” In addition, the European Union expressed concern about the sentence issued against Sheikh Ali Salman, and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations called the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman a blow to freedom of expression.

However, despite the growing concern over the silencing of Sheikh Ali Salman and the subsequent 2017 dissolution of the political opposition society al-Wefaq, Bahraini authorities announced on 27 November 2017 the start of a new trial against him on charges of spying for Qatar.

The latest trial against Sheikh Ali Salman reinforces the closing of democratic space in the country; as the 2018 elections for Bahrain’s lower house of parliament approach, the government has forcibly dissolved Wa’ad, the largest secular leftist society, and indefinitely suspended Bahrain’s only independent newspaper Al-Wasat, in addition to upholding its arbitrary decision in 2017 to dissolve the political opposition society al-Wefaq.

On 24 April 2018, the High Criminal Court adjourned the new trial against Sheikh Ali Salman until 21 June, when it is expected to issue a verdict in the case. The Public Prosecution Office has called on the High Criminal Court to hand down the “maximum penalty” – which in this case could be a death sentence.

NGOs have decried this use of the judiciary to punish opposition activists for publicly expressing views that oppose the Bahraini government. The trial is in violation of Sheikh Ali Salman’s rights to liberty, fair trial, free expression, and free association.

We, the undersigned, call on Bahraini authorities to:
1. Drop all charges and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ali Salman and the cancellation of the sentence issued against him in the previous case;
2. Stop prosecution of political dissidents and human rights activists for reasons related to freedom of expression;
3. Stop the arbitrary use of domestic legislation, including some articles of the Penal Code and the Law on the Protection of Society from Terrorist Acts, to criminalize the peaceful practice of freedom of opinion and expression;
4. Release all detainees who have been arrested for reasons related to exercising their fundamental rights to expression, organisation and peaceful assembly guaranteed by international laws.

Signed,

Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Freedom Forum
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
Maharat Foundation
MARCH
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Watch
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Norwegian PEN
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
South East Europe Media Organisation 
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Bahrain Interfaith
Danish Pen
Global Human Rights Geneva
MENA Monitoring Group
No Peace Without Justice
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Vivarta Limited

Don't lose your voice. Stay informed.

Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter, our monthly events email and periodic updates about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share, sell or transfer your personal information with anyone outside Index.

Appeal on EU leaders before 6th South EU Summit to be held in Malta

EU leaders from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are urged to address the ongoing impunity in the case of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Content bans won’t just eliminate “bad” speech online

Social media platforms have enormous influence over what we see and how we see it. We should all be concerned about the knee-jerk actions taken by the platforms to limit legal speech and approach with extreme caution any solutions that suggest it’s somehow easy to eliminate only “bad” speech. Those supporting the removal of videos [...]

Raid on ABC puts Australian press freedom at risk

Index on Censorship condemns the raid by Australian federal police on the offices of public broadcaster ABC over a 2017 article it ran in on operations of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Jodie Ginsberg: Chinese artist Badiucao is an inspiration to cartoonists and campaigners all over the world

Badiucao, one of China’s leading dissident cartoonists, has revealed his identity after years of anonymity. In November 2018 following his campaign that saw thousands of people around the world recreate the image of Tank Man, an unidentified Chinese man who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Badiucao […]

Comments are closed.