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'It Couldn't Be Clearer That They Don't Care': Bahrain's Opposition Leader Gets Four Year Jail Term

A Shia Muslim cleric and head of the al Wefaq Islamic Society, Sheikh Ali Salman was convicted of inciting disobedience and hatred, but acquitted on the charge of seeking to overthrow the monarchy.
Photo by Hasan Jamali/AP

Bahrain's main opposition leader has been sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of inciting disobedience and hatred in the Gulf state.

Sheikh Ali Salman was also convicted of "insulting an official body," though he was acquitted of seeking to overthrow the monarchy and alter the political system, a charge which carried a potential life sentence.

A Shia Muslim cleric who heads Bahrain's opposition movement al Wefaq, Salman was arrested last December on the basis of comments made in a series of speeches. Earlier that year, al Wefaq had been banned from operating for three months, shortly before parliamentary elections were held.


Following the sentencing, Salman's lawyer, Hasan Radhi, said he was not surprised by the conviction "because the trial was going in this direction."

"We repeatedly complained of the prosecution witness's false statements," he said, adding Salman would appeal.

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Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told VICE News he felt the timing of Tuesday's sentencing marked a "new red line crossed," coming as the United Nations Human Rights Council began its regular session in Geneva. The UN has previously expressed concern about the human rights situation in Bahrain, which is "critical" according to Human Rights Watch.

"It is not [a] coincidence," Alwadai said.

"It seems that there is a unified policy by the Gulf Cooperation Council [to say] we simply don't care about any international criticism and any international pressure," he said. "[They think they] can get away with things because the world needs our oil and we can move forward. So the message from those dictators is clear and it couldn't be clearer that they don't care."

The trial "has nothing to do with due process or due diligence," Alwadai added. "Things are just escalating in a bad way."

Related: We Spoke to Bahraini Activist Nabeel Rajab, Hours Before He Was Sentenced to Six Months in Jail for a Tweet


Alwadaei — who lost his Bahraini citizenship earlier this year after being labeled a "terrorist" by the country's government — resides in the UK but is currently in Brussels, where he is advocating on behalf of Nabeel Rajab, the Bahraini human rights activist who has been sentenced to prison time for a single tweet interpreted as critical of the Bahraini leadership.

Bahrain has experienced sporadic protests since 2011, when an uprising against the ruling Sunni royal family caused deep ruptures in the state.

In a statement released shortly before Salman's sentencing, the Bahraini government said the "serious charges" against Salman were being properly regarded as a criminal offense.

"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."

It added: "Freedom of expression is protected by Bahrain's constitution and the government continues to uphold it robustly."

Related: Lawyers Question Legality of British Naval Base in Bahrain

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd