Leading Bahraini Opposition Figure Sentenced to Life in Prison Exhausts All Appeals

28 January 2019 – Today, on 28 January 2019, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation rejected the appeal of prominent al-Wefaq opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, therefore upholding his sentence of life in prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly rejects the court’s decision to confirm Sheikh Ali Salman’s life sentence and the political nature of the case. ADHRB calls on Bahrain to drop all charges against Sheikh Ali and to release him and all other political prisoners.

Sheikh Ali Salman was first arrested in 2014 and sentenced to four years in prison on free expression charges relating to political speeches he gave in his capacity as Secretary General of the now-dissolved al-Wefaq political society. In November 2017, Bahraini authorities brought new spurious espionage charges against him in relation to communications he had with Qatar back in 2011. At the time Qatar was expected to play a mediating role between the Bahraini government and the opposition following the violent crackdown on peaceful protests and the potential mediation efforts were public and well-documented, with the Bahraini government’s full knowledge and United States’ support.

Bahrain’s High Criminal Court initially found Sheikh Ali Salman innocent of these politically motivated charges related to espionage in June 2018, but the Public Prosecution Office immediately appealed the verdict. Following several postponements of the appeals trial, Bahrain’s High Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal and sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman and his two co-defendants to life in prison in November 2018, a month before Sheikh Ali was supposed to be released from prison for serving his four year sentence.

Sheikh Ali Salman appealed the life sentence, but Bahrain’s Court of Cassation – also known as the court of last resort – rejected the appeal, confirming the life sentence.

“The continued targeting and harassment of Bahrain’s opposition by the government, as demonstrated by the confirmation of Sheikh Ali Salman’s life sentence, shows the extent Bahrain has cracked down on civil and political space,” said ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Sheikh Ali Salman’s case is inherently political and the Government of Bahrain must drop the arbitrary charges against him and immediately release him.”

The decision by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation to uphold leading Bahraini opposition figure Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence of life in prison is troubling and indicative of the broader political situation in the kingdom. The government of Bahrain has made it clear they intend to silence and intimidate all opposition.