Bahrain urged to release jailed opposition political leader

Human Rights Watch says detention of Ebrahim Sharif is proof that 'Bahrain is a serial abuser of the right to free speech'
Bahrain urged to release jailed opposition political leader
Ebrahim Sharif, long-time secretary general of the National Democratic Action Society. (Getty Images)
By Staff writer
Fri 19 Feb 2016 01:07 AM

Bahrain authorities have been urged to immediately release opposition political leader Ebrahim Sharif who is facing a lengthy prison sentence for his criticism of the government.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Sharif, the long-time secretary general of the National Democratic Action Society, has been in detention since his arrest on July 11, 2015, on charges that he encouraged the overthrow of the government and “incited hatred” in a speech he gave the day before.

The 19-minute speech is available online. After reviewing the speech, Human Rights Watch said it could not find any language suggesting that Sharif called for violence.

“Most high-profile critics of the government are in jail or in exile, yet Bahrain’s allies in Europe and the United States babble on about a reform process,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.

“Anyone with an internet connection can see for themselves just how ridiculous these charges are.”

A Bahraini court will deliver its verdict on February 24. Sharif is accused of violating articles 160 and 165 of Bahrain’s penal code, which prohibit advocating “the overthrow or change of the country’s political, social or economic system with the use of force, intimidation or such other illegal methods” and any act that “expressly incites others to develop hatred or hostility towards the system of government".

But according to Human Rights Watch, Sharif’s speech repudiated violence and supported peaceful protest.

Authorities rearrested Sharif less than a month after his release from prison on June 19, 2015, nine months before the end of a five-year sentence. Sharif was one of 21 opposition activists Bahraini authorities alleged had been involved with a group calling for democratic reforms and a republican form of government.

In a January 12, 2015 letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sharif’s wife, Farida Ghulam, described the trial as “a farcical attempt to demonize the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression”.

“The continued detention of Ebrahim Sharif is one more piece of evidence, if any were needed, that Bahrain is a serial abuser of the right to free speech,” Stork added.

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