Profile in Persecution: Shaikh Ali Salman

Shaikh Ali Salman – a leading member of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest political opposition group prior to its government enforced dissolution in 2016 – is currently being arbitrarily detained for his peaceful political activities. Shaikh Ali Salman was arrested in 2014 and has been subjected to numerous due process violations during his unfair imprisonment.

Shaikh Ali was arrested on 28 December 2014 after having been summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) for holding a conference of the Al-Wefaq General Assembly. Shaikh Ali Salman had previously been summoned to the CID for interrogation on numerous occasions as part of the Bahraini government’s systematic targeting of opposition figures with the aim of deterring them from their pro-democracy activism. After he arrived at the CID on the morning of 28 December he was promptly arrested and interrogated. Notably, the arrest occurred two days after Sheikh Ali Al-Salman was re-elected as the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq. Following his arrest, the CID twice denied him access to a lawyer before eventually permitting his lawyer to be present during only a portion of the interrogation. Despite the assurances offered to his lawyer that the CID would transfer Shaikh Ali Salman to the Office of the Public Prosecution, he was never taken to the Public Prosecution, with the MOI ordering his ongoing detention from that point forward.

The authorities charged Shaikh Ali Salman with range of offenses that included inciting a change of regime by non-peaceful means, inciting hatred of a segment of society against another, inciting others to break the law, and insulting the Ministry of Interior. The total sentence was 17 years imprisonment and fines of 400 Dinars. On 16 June 2015, the Fourth High Criminal Court in Manama convicted him on the first three charges, sentencing him to four years in prison.

Shortly after his conviction, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision concerning Shaikh Ali Salman, wherein they officially declared his ongoing imprisonment as constituting arbitrary detention. More specifically, the Working Group found Shaikh Ali Salman’s detention to be a deprivation of liberty in direct contravention of articles 9, 10 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and articles 9, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In offering their decision, the Working Group cited its concern that Sheikh Ali Salman had been detained on charges stemming entirely for exercising his right of free expression. The Working Group took particular note of the timing of Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest, which occurred only two days after his re-election as the Secretary General of al-Wefaq, and shortly after he made public statements calling for pro-democracy reforms and greater governmental accountability. Also noted within the Working Group’s decision were a number of due process violations that occurred throughout Shaikh Ali Salman’s trial. It was found that despite statements offered by the Public Prosecution to the contrary, the court often did not allow Shaikh Ali’s attorneys to examine or adequately rebut evidence, nor did the government allow him the appropriate presumption of innocence.

Even when confronted with the decision of the Working Group, the Bahraini government refused to release Shaikh Ali Salman in accordance with remedies outlined in international law. In November 2017, as he was nearing the expiration of his sentence, Sheikh Salman was charged again. The updated chargewas that of “conspiring with Qatar” during the peaceful protest movement in 2011. The charges stemmed from a well-established and documented mediation attempt that was originally encouraged by the United States, with the Bahraini government’s knowledge. Following a trial and appeals process that was marred by further fair trial violations, Shaikh Ali was convicted on charges of espionage and sentenced to life in prison.

The findings of the Working Group on Arbitrary detention confirm that the arrest and detention of Sheikh Ali Al-Salman resulted from “the exercise of his right to freedom of opinion, the expression of his political views, his right to assemble and associate with others through his active participation in the main Bahraini opposition movement”. As such, his detention is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain is a party to. Accordingly, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Shaikh Ali Salman and drop all charges against him in relation to his or Al-Wefaq’s work. Furthermore, ADHRB urges the Government of Bahrain to ensure that political societies and activists are able to conduct their work without retaliation.