Bahrain court acquits leading opposition leader


Sheikh Ali Salman

Sheikh Ali Salman

21 June 2018 – Bahrain’s High Criminal Court acquitted the leader of Bahrain’s dissolved opposition party Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, of politically motivated charges related to espionage.

The verdict marked the end of a long, flawed trial. Sheikh Salman was acquitted alongside his two co-defendants and leading figures in the Al-Wefaq party, Sheikh Hassan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali Al-Aswad. Sheikh Salman’s co-defendants were tried in absentia.

Sheikh Salman is currently serving a four year sentence in Jau Prison in relation to another freedom of expression case.

Commenting, BIRD’s Director of Advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei: “This case should never have been initiated in the first place: Sheikh Ali Salman had been used as a pawn in Bahrain’s game of power politics. Despite his acquittal, Sheikh Salman will continue to languish in Jau Prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression.  His conviction must be overturned and he must be released immediately.”

Background Information: The Qatari Case

Timeline of Events According to Bahrain’s Public Prosecution

  • August 2017 – Bahrain’s state television broadcasted an audio recording of a phone call between Sheikh Salman and the then Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani. This event triggered Sheikh Salman’s prosecution.

  • 1 November 2017 – Sheikh Salman was summoned by the Public Prosecution and charged undermining the “political, economic position and national interests with the purpose of overthrowing the regime” in Bahrain. He had been accused of maintaining intelligence contacts with Qatar. More specifically, his allegations included revealing national defence secrets and accepting financial sums from a foreign country, namely Qatar.

  • 12 November 2017 – The Public Prosecution referred the case to the High Criminal Court.

  • 24 April 2018 – The Public Prosecution stated that the case was postponed to 21 June for sentencing.

The Qatari Mediation as Referenced by the 2011 BICI Report

Paragraph 527 of the 2011 report by Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), cited opposition sources suggested that the then Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, could act as the sponsor of a proposed United States initiative. Opposition sources also indicated that the State of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, attempted to mediate between the Bahraini Government and opposition parties in the following days, and that this initiative was accepted by the opposition but rejected by the Government.

However, the mediating role of Qatar never arose as an issue before the Qatari crisis of 2017.

Background Information: Freedom of Expression Case

Sheikh Salman is currently imprisoned in Jau Prison as a result of a separate conviction related to speeches he delivered in 2014 against parliamentary elections that his party boycotted. Some of Sheikh Salman’s charged included publicly inciting hatred, civil disobedience and for promoting change within the ruling government. He was initially sentenced to four years in June 2015, and increased to nine-year prison sentence by the appeal court and then reduced back to four years on 3 April 2017 by the highest court, In reality he was convicted in relation to peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, following a grossly unfair trial.

Early last year, Sheikh Salman was among the 12 opposition activists and human rights defenders who were subjected to degrading treatment in Jau Prison. Since then, he has been denied the right to family visitations and access to books.

International Responses

United Nations

  • In February 2015, five UN experts expressed concern for the arrest and detention of Sheikh Salman, and called for his release.

  • In September 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) officially declared Sheikh Salman to be arbitrarily detained. The WGAD cited both freedom of expression and due process concerns, requested for his immediate release and that he receive his enforceable right to compensation.

United Kingdom (UK)

On 15 June 2018, in response to a parliamentary question on Sheikh Salman’s case, UK MENA Minister Alistair Burt merely stated that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had “raised the case at a senior level with the Government of Bahrain”. The Minister, however, has failed to publicly condemn the charges.

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

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]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.


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
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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]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.

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