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Amnesty raps Bahrain for upholding life sentence for Sheikh Salman

In this file photo, taken on May 29, 2016, Bahraini men are seen holding placards bearing the portrait of Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the now-dissolved opposition movement al-Wefaq, during a protest against his arrest, at the al-Wefaq headquarter building, in the village of Zinj, on the outskirts of the capital, Manama. (By AFP)

Amnesty International has blasted Bahrain for upholding a life sentence against prominent Shia cleric and opposition figure Sheikh Ali Salman, describing the verdict as another blow to the freedom of expression in the country.

The Court of Cassation in Bahrain on Monday confirmed life imprisonment sentences against the 53-year-old Sheikh Salman, who is the secretary general of the now-dissolved al-Wefaq movement, and two of his assistants over charges of colluding with Qatar to commit subversion.

“Today’s verdict is yet another nail in the coffin for the right to freedom of expression in Bahrain and exposes the country’s justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman’s conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities’ determination to silence critical voices,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

“The Bahraini authorities must quash Sheikh Ali Salman’s conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally. They should also rescind the decision to dissolve the two opposition political groups, al-Wefaq and Wa’ad, and guarantee the right of everyone to freedom of association,” she added, referring to another political movement dissolved by the Bahraini regime.

Sheikh Salman, along with two senior al-Wefaq leaders, namely Sheikh Hassan Sultan and Ali Alaswad, had been charged in November last year with “communicating with Qatar to commit hostile acts aimed at destabilizing the state.”

Back then, al-Wefaq said that the Bahraini judiciary was a tool in the hands of the ruling Manama regime, and the ruling reflected the magnitude of the turmoil in the country.

Sheikh Salman reacted to the Monday verdict by saying, “I will endure all hardship for the sake of Allah and the people.”

Sheikh Salman has been in jail since late 2014. The regime has brought a litany of charges against him, including “insulting” government officials, “inciting” unrest through his speeches targeting the authorities during a 2011 uprising, attempting to overthrow the regime, and collaborating with foreign powers.

The senior Bahraini cleric denies all the charges, saying that he has merely been seeking reform in the country through peaceful means.

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.

They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to crack down on dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in that crackdown. Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or gotten arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

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