Outrageous Prison Sentences for Bahraini Teachers

September 28, 2011

Scores of perceived political foes have faced trials in military courts © Amnesty International

We’ve had a lot to say over recent months about Bahrain’s treatment of protesters, and unfortunately, the most recent news doesn’t make the situation much brighter: a Bahrain military court decided to uphold the guilty verdicts against a group of prominent opposition activists, exposing yet again the inherent unfairness of the trial process.

The activists whose sentences were confirmed today (in proceedings lasting less than five minutes) are not the only civilians being tried in military courts. The ongoing struggle of teachers Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, former president and vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), suffered another setback on Sunday: they have been sentenced to 10 and three years in prison respectively.

Jalila and Mahdi were arrested in March and April 2011 apparently in connection with the BTA’s earlier calls for strikes during the wide-spread protests of February and March. Following her arrest Jalila was tortured, beaten and held in solitary confinement.  After participating in a three week hunger strike with another female prisoner in protest of their detention, she was finally released on bail on August 21st, but still faced charges. Mahdi has remained in detention since his April arrest; he also has been subjected to torture, including being held in solitary confinement for 64 days.

Jalila and Mahdi were charged with, among other offenses, using their positions within the BTA to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process, inciting hatred of the regime and attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force, possessing pamphlets and disseminating fabricated stories and information. Like scores of other civilian defendants, they were tried and sentenced by a military court, in breach of their right to a fair trial.

A review of statements issued by the BTA and speeches given by Mahdi Abu Dheeb during the Spring in relation to strikes and other protest activity reveals only appeals for peaceful activity, and no mention of or advocacy for violence. No further evidence has been made publicly available by the Bahrain authorities to suggest that either of the two ever engaged in, or encouraged others to engage in, violence of any kind.

Amnesty International believes that both Jalila and Mahdi may be prisoners of conscience, arrested merely because of their leadership positions in the BTA and for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

On Sunday they were dealt a terrible injustice; they have suffered enough at the hands of their government. It is important for us to join them in their continued struggle and to demand justice on their behalf.  The decision of the Bahrain authorities must be challenged, both on the grounds that it reflects policies which are inherently unjust, and that it is based on deeply flawed process. Mahdi and Jalila have been unfairly convicted of charges which violate their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, reportedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and denied fair trials.

The government of Bahrain must be held accountable.