Amnesty Int'l slams Bahrain court over jail term for Shi'ite leader

Human rights group says decision to increase prison sentence on Sheikh Ali Salman is 'shocking attack on the right to freedom of expression'

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Shiite opposition movement Al-Wefaq. (Getty Images)

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Shiite opposition movement Al-Wefaq. (Getty Images)

A Bahraini appeals court's decision to lengthen the prison term imposed on Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main Shi'ite Muslim opposition movement, to nine years from four has been slammed as a "shocking attack on the right to freedom of expression".

Sheikh ‘Ali Salman, who is the secretary general of the main opposition party al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, was originally sentenced in June last year on charges including “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry” and “publicly inciting others to disobey the law”.

James Lynch, Amnesty’s deputy director of Middle East and North Africa Programme, said: “Sheikh Ali Salman’s conviction is clearly politically motivated and is designed to send a message to others that even legitimate and peaceful demands for reform will not go unpunished.

"He is a prisoner of conscience and should never have been put on trial in the first place. He must be immediately and unconditionally released."

Amnesty International said that in recent years, Bahrain has tightened its grip on freedom of expression with multiple arrests and harassment of opposition politicians and activists including Ebrahim Sharif, former secretary general of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and Fadhel Abbas Mahdi Mohamed, former Secretary General of The Unitary National Democratic Assemblage (al-Wahdawi party). 

“With three prominent opposition politicians behind bars, the authorities have made clear that criticism will not be tolerated in Bahrain today and anyone who dares to challenge them is at risk,” said Lynch.

On Monday, Al-Wefaq denounced the decision against Salman, a Shi'ite cleric, as "provocative" and said it undermined any chance of resolving a political crisis in Bahrain tinged with sectarianism and bitter rivalries among regional powers.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, has experienced sporadic turmoil since a Shi'ite-led uprising in 2011 that demanded democratic reforms and a bigger role in government.

That revolt was put down with military assistance from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which fears that Shi'ite arch-rival Iran is spreading its influence in the Arab world.

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