The prosecution of Ebrahim Sharif, a political activist detained after making a speech calling for reform in Bahrain, demonstrates the authorities’ dogged determination to quash dissent and curtail freedom of expression in the country, said Amnesty International ahead of the start of his trial on 24 August.
Ebrahim Sharif, who is a former Secretary General of a secular political opposition party, the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), was arrested in July 2015 after giving a speech at a public gathering to commemorate the death of Hussam al-Haddad, a 16-year-old boy who was shot dead by riot police in 2012.
“Speaking freely is not a crime – the fact that Ebrahim Sharif is going on trial for giving a speech calling for reform is absurd. The Bahraini authorities are clearly punishing him merely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Middle East and North Africa Director.
“This is yet another example of the Bahraini government attempting to quash the slightest sign of political dissent. All the charges against him should be dropped.”
Speaking freely is not a crime – the fact that Ebrahim Sharif is going on trial for giving a speech calling for reform is absurd. The Bahraini authorities are clearly punishing him merely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expressionSaid Boumedouha, Acting Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International
In his speech on 10 July Ebrahim Sharif spoke about the need for change in Bahrain, highlighted the political opposition’s commitment to non-violence and urged the government to introduce key economic reforms. He has been charged with “incitement to hatred and contempt of the regime” and “incitement to overthrow the regime by force and illegal means”.
“The allegations that Ebrahim Sharif’s calls for peaceful political and economic reform amount to incitement to hatred or incitement to overthrow the regime are ludicrous. Any trial based on such spurious charges should not be allowed to go ahead,” said Said Boumedouha.
The allegations that Ebrahim Sharif’s calls for peaceful political and economic reform amount to incitement to hatred or incitement to overthrow the regime are ludicrous. Any trial based on such spurious charges should not be allowed to go aheadSaid Boumedouha
Ebrahim Sharif’s arrest and detention came less than a month after his release on 19 June following a royal pardon. He had been serving a five-year prison sentence imposed on him after an unfair trial that led to the conviction of him and 12 other prominent political opposition activists for leading widespread anti-government protests in February and March 2011.
Ebrahim Sharif is not the first political activist in Bahrain to face trial based on spurious charges. In June 2015 Sheikh ‘Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Bahrain’s main opposition party, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society (al-Wefaq), was sentenced to four years in jail on similar charges of inciting hatred, inciting others to disobey the law, and publicly insulting the Interior Ministry. His appeal begins on 15 September.
On 18 August, the authorities arrested another al-Wefaq leader and former member of parliament, Sheikh Hasan ‘Isa, at Bahrain International Airport after his return from travel. Al-Wefaq said in a statement that there is no information on the charges against him and that his lawyer was not allowed to attend the interrogation with him at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigations Directorate.
Amnesty International and other NGOs have been calling on the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Bahrain. It should demand the release of all prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders and activists convicted solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, association or expression.