The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about the Bahraini authorities continued harassment of human rights defenders and its policy of restricting their right to free expression. Human rights defender Sheikh Maytham al-Salman was again summoned for interrogation over a speech he delivered in a public event last month.
On 31 December 2015, the Bahraini authorities handed Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, and others, a summons to be present at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) later on the same day. At the CID, al-Salman was interrogated about his participation in an event a few days earlier on the anniversary of Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest, during which he delivered a speech. He was later released, only to be summoned again by the public prosecution on 6 January 2016. At the public prosecution, the interrogation focused on the content of the speech he delivered on 27 December during the aforementioned event, which the prosecution claimed to have incited hatred against the regime and incited people to disobey the law. Not only that, he was questioned about his activism, including his international human rights ties, relationships and activities, as well as his views on some controversial issues. At the end of the interrogation, the prosecution accused him of “expressing views regarding a case still at court" and "inciting hatred against the regime."
The speech over which Sheikh al-Salman was charged aimed to bring into focus the deceptions about international standards for fair trials Bahraini authorities have committed in the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman, whom he considered to be a prisoner of conscience. (Find the full text of the speech at the end of this statement.) This is not the first time Sheikh al-Salman has been summoned and interrogated by the authorities for similar reasons related to his work and his right to free speech.
It is important to point out that Sheikh al-Salman is an international spokesperson and a human rights defender, particularly on topics related to freedom of religions, anti-extremism, anti-violence and strengthening positive relations between cultures and religions. He has taken part in a number of human rights conferences, as well as meetings with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities’ actions are an indication of its increasingly harsh policies aimed at further harassing human rights defenders in order to silence them, in addition to its continued implementation of further restrictions both in law and practice on the right to free expression. Moreover, human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain have been ongoing targets of the authorities who have attempted countless times to silence them, stop their work and oppress their right to freedom of expression, including BCHR President Nabeel Rajab, activist Zainab al-Khawaja, and human rights defender Naji Fateel, to mention but a few.
Accordingly, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:
- Drop all charges pending on Sheikh Maytham al-Salman for exercising his freedom of speech
- Release all prisoners who have been convicted for their political opinions; and
- Fully comply with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) recommendations and international laws.
Sheikh Maytham al-Salman’s speech of 27 December 2015:
"The joint letter sent to the authorities in Bahrain by the Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Consciousness, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers clearly revealed that United Nations experts consider the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman as a direct response by the authority to his public expression of political views.
The international consensus on the invalidity of the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman and its breach of the tenth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: 'Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him', is clear and not in doubt by international experts, legal scholars and international human rights organizations.
There is a consensus that the trial is a retaliation against Sheikh Ali Salman for expressing his political views publicly. Those views clearly call for the improvement of the political system in the country, so that the people become true decision makers in the political process. Sheikh Ali Salman has constantly called for activating the first article of the constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain which states that 'the system of government in the Kingdom of Bahrain is democratic; sovereignty being in the hands of the people, the source of all powers'.
In order to conduct a fair trial the following principle has to be applied: 'a crime or penalty can only be determined by law'. Is there anything in law that criminalizes someone who calls for activating the first article of the constitution - which says 'the people are the source of all powers'? Is there a legal provision that criminalizes the call for democracy and developing the political system to address the social and economic challenges the country is facing?
Does it make Sheikh Ali Salman a criminal to call for the implementation of the UN Periodic Review and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry [BICI] recommendations? There is no single provision in law that criminalizes Sheikh Ali Salman for his pro-democratic views and calls to end human rights violations and implement the international human rights commitments on Bahrain.
Sheikh Ali Salman's trial does not comply with the principle of 'a crime or penalty can only be determined by law', and therefore, it is not a fair trial in accordance with international standards.
Sheikh Ali Salman's arrest is another proof that authorities have not implemented the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations. The report, in paragraphs 1279 and 1281, stated that some Criminal Code Articles are used to punish the opposition and violate the right of freedom of expression contrary to Bahrain's international commitments. The report found that these articles are being used to ban and suppress freedom of expression regarding the country's governance structures and system or even the call to develop them.
The report has clearly recommended abolishing all the sentences against the opposition members who peacefully expressed their political views, because that clearly contradicts article 19 of the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights.
Sheikh Ali Salman’s imprisonment as well as Ibrahim Sherif's trial reveal the unwillingness of the government in implementing Professor Bassiouni's recommendations as head of the BICI commission.
If you are serious and eager to implement the BICI recommendations invite Professor Bassiouni to officially visit Bahrain again in order to verify the implementation of his own recommendations.
One year has passed and Sheikh Ali Salman still calls on the authority, from his prison cell, to engage in a serious, meaningful dialogue process which could achieve political, social and economic stability. The government must utilize these calls. Continuously ignoring them does not serve Bahrain. If the government continues to refuse to open doors for dialogue, the international community will clearly understand that the authorities are responsible for the continuance of the political crisis and the ongoing human rights violations. It is also important to point out that any future dialogue should include the imprisoned leaders who have constantly called for dialogue as the only means to resolve social and political disputes in the country."