The United States is deeply concerned by the June 16 conviction and sentencing by a Bahraini court of Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of the Al-Wifaq opposition political society. He was convicted of inciting hatred, promoting disobedience and “insulting” public institutions. Sheikh Ali is also a Shia Muslim cleric.
Sheikh Ali was jailed in December after he delivered a series of speeches calling for political reform and accountability after his re-election as party leader. His arrest triggered protests across the country.
In 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring, dozens died when the government of Bahrain moved to quash protests demanding more rights and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia community by the Sunni royal family. Bahrain has dealt with sporadic unrest since then.
The United States has consistently said opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. Creating an atmosphere in which a full range of political opinions can be peacefully expressed is essential in Bahrain, across the Middle East, and globally. Furthermore, this action by the Bahraini court has the potential to further inflame tensions.
Amnesty International said Shaikh Ali’s conviction was “another clear example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for international obligations” and called for his immediate release.
The United States believes that no one, anywhere, should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly. Any charges against Shaikh Ali that were brought on that basis should be dropped. The U.S. also strongly urges the government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to the protection of freedom of expression.