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Jailing Bahrain opposition leader 'an affront'

A Bahraini protester holds a poster of Sheikh Ali Salman - June, 2015. [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 June, 2015

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A Bahrain court jailed Shia opposition leader Ali Salman for four years on Tuesday, a ruling described by Amnesty International as 'an affront' to freedom of expression.

A court in the Gulf Arab state of Bahrain has sentenced the country's leading Shia opposition figure to four years in prison after he was convicted of 'insulting' the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, inciting others to break the law and inciting hatred against naturalized Sunni citizens. 

However, the higher criminal court found Sheikh Ali Salman, who is the secretary general of the al-Wefaq political opposition group, not guilty of a fourth charge of inciting a change of government by force, which carried a potential life sentence.  

The charges against Salman stem from speeches he made between 2012 and 2014. His arrest in December sparked clashes between protesters and police. 

His defence lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlawi says that Salman, 59, can appeal Tuesday's verdict. 

Global rights group Amnesty International reacted with outrage to the sentence, describing it as 'an affront' to freedom of expression. It also accused the Bahraini authorities of  "consistent disregard" for the right to freedom of expression. 

“Today’s verdict is shocking. It is yet another clear example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for its international obligations. Sheikh 'Ali Salman has been sentenced solely for peacefully expressing his opinion,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.  

Amnesty International on Monday called on Bahrain to free Salman, calling him a "prisoner of conscience" and saying he had not received a fair trial. 

Demands for reform crushed

Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, has experienced sporadic turmoil since the mass protests in 2011 led by majority Shia demanding reforms and a bigger role in government. That uprising was put down with military help from Saudi Arabia.  

Bahrain says it has made significant political reforms and increased oversight of security forces. Opponents say abuses continue. 

With a political accord between the government and opposition remaining elusive, there has been an increase in deadly bomb attacks on Bahraini security forces. 

The prosecution accused Salman of promoting the overthrow of the political system by force, inciting violence and supporting attacks that caused the deaths of 14 policemen. He denies the charges and has dismissed the trial as bid to muzzle dissent. 

In a statement on Monday, the government said the "serious charges" against Salman were rightly regarded as a criminal offence, and that he had received a fair trial. 

"Ali Salman’s case relates to criminal charges, specifically incitement of hatred, as well as inciting violence. The charges and subsequent trial are wholly unrelated to any political views he may hold," the government statement said.  

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