Bahrain must immediately free opposition figures, say activists

Bahrain must immediately free opposition figures, say activists
Analysis: Manana should release Ibrahim Sharif and Sheikh Ali Salman, key opposition figures that have been unjustly imprisoned, Human Rights Watch has said.
2 min read
09 October, 2015
Protesters in Bahrain call for the release of Sheikh Ali Salman [AFP]

Two political opposition leaders unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain should be released immediately, Human Rights Watch has said.

Ibrahim Sharif and Sheikh Ali Salman have been charged unfairly, said the human rights group.

"Sharif and Salman have consistently supported peaceful political reform and should be at a negotiating table with Bahrain's government, not languishing behind bars," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director.

"Countries that say they support Bahrain's reform process should make this point publicly," he added, referring to the US and the UK.

Sharif, who is secretary-general of the secular National Democratic Action Society, faces trial on October 14, 2015. He was charged with attempting to overthrow the government and "inciting hatred" after making a speech calling for political reforms. He faces up to ten years imprisonment.

     Sharif is charged with violating his right to freedom of expression.

The ministry of the interior said his speech "encouraged the overthrow of the government and incited hatred".

Sharif's speech condemned the government and called for protest against their actions, but clearly rejected violence:

"The nature of the political movement in this country has been, from the beginning, peaceful and moral," he had told a crowd. "The opposition understands well that violence is the domain of the authority. Violence is where the authority has the upper hand over opposition, but morality is where the opposition has the upper hand. Violence is the authority's playing field, not ours."

HRW said his case violated international standards on freedom of expression. "The charges against him are wholly without foundation," the group said.

When he was arrested, Sharif had only recently been released from prison - on 19 June - after being sentenced in June 2011 to five years in jail.

Salman has been detained since being arrested on 15 September 2015. The judge has refused to allow his lawyers to present important evidence at previous sessions of his appeal hearing, including recordings of the relevant speeches.

The court instead relied on testimony from Khalid al-Saidi, an interior ministry official who, "said that he himself had listened to recordings of these sermons and speeches".

However, Saidi misinterpreted the contents of Salman's speeches, said HRW.

"The US and the UK are fully aware of the gross unfairness of Salman's trial and the content of Sharif's peaceful speeches, said Stork. "This should give them good reason to call publicly for an end to their prosecutions and their immediate release."