Tweet to secure Bahraini teacher's freedom

Update 4 April 2016:

Good news! Today, Mahdi Abu Deeb finally walked free after five unjust years in a Bahraini prison. Thank you so much to everyone who campaigned for his release – your actions, tweets and letters have played a vital part in securing his freedom.

Head of the BTA Mahdi Abu Deeb free after serving his arbitrary prison sentence. #Bahrain pic.twitter.com/fJQ7XSGV3R

— BIRD (@BirdBahrain_) April 4, 2016

This weekend, screens around the world will be streaming live from Bahrain. Thanks to the Grand Prix, the tiny Middle Eastern Kingdom will be top of the headlines. But not for the reasons I’d hope – like being one of the worst offenders for shutting down free speech and any kind of criticism of the government, for example.

And the real celebration won’t be the Formula 1 on Sunday, it will (fingers crossed) be the release of imprisoned school teacher and teaching union leader Mahdi Abu Dheeb the following day.

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Mahdi Abu Dheeb is a school teacher and leader of a teaching union. Arrested for calling for a teacher's strike in support of democratic reform back in 2011, Mahdi is serving a five-year sentence simply for trying to speak freely. He's being punished for doing that - and for essentially using his right to be a member of a union with worker's rights. He is a prisoner of conscience, being punished for trying to exercising his human rights: he's not committed a crime.

Mahdi's sentence comes to an end on Monday 4 April. While he should never have be imprisoned in the first place, Mahdi's release will be welcomed, not least by his family who are looking forward to having him back.

Maryam Abu Deeb here, running baba's account for the coming few days .. #4April WE CAN'T WAIT#Bahrain #FreeAbuDeeb

— Mahdi Abu Deeb (@MahdiAbuDeeb) March 26, 2016

The mother who didn't give up from day 1 of his detention,but kept fighting for his release #FreeAbuDheeb #Bahrain pic.twitter.com/tLpe8IeCRJ

— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) March 30, 2016

While he's due for release on Monday, the Bahraini authorities have a habit of prologing detentions or rearresting prisoners for spurious reasons. The chances of Mahdi being kept in or rearrested diminishes while the authorities know that there are many people around the world expecting his release on time, and for him to remain free.

Mahdi's many supporters

We've been counting down to his release since last weekend.

Thanks @jeremycorbyn, Christine Blower, @cyclingkev & delegates #NUT16 for awesome #FreeAbuDheeb @aibahrain action pic.twitter.com/ITP2Mnlj5e

— Shane Enright (@ShaneEnrightTU) March 25, 2016

An astonishing 1,200 teachers #NUT16 conference said #FreeAbuDheeb today. Time 4 @moi_bahrain to listen! @aibahrain pic.twitter.com/c9w9eGf1Rf

— Shane Enright (@ShaneEnrightTU) March 25, 2016

6 days until prisoner of conscience Mahdi Abu Dheeb is freed!Join us and tweet #FreeAbuDheeb #Bahrain pic.twitter.com/WSLdKPZH1Q

— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) March 29, 2016

.@AmnestyUK Director @KateAllenAI insists #FreeAbuDheeb @moi_bahrain - 5 days to go. pic.twitter.com/panAz06Y7J

— Shane Enright (@ShaneEnrightTU) March 30, 2016

Why is Mahdi in prison?

Mahdi Abu Dheeb was arrested and imprisoned at a time of great unrest in Bahrain. It was April 2011, when the mood of political uprising sparked by the so-called Arab Spring had spread across the Middle East. From January until March that year, people had taken to the streets of the Kingdom, many calling for the ruling regime to step down. The authorities responded with violence - many protesters were beaten, some killed.

Meanwhile, Mahdi and his colleage Jalila al-Salman suggested his teaching union went on strike to support the protesters' calls for reform. It wasn’t long before they were arrested.

Tortured in detention

Mahdi was at his uncle’s house on 6 April 2011 when police seized him for interrogation. They took him to a secret location: his family didn’t know where he was for over three weeks. He was kept in solitary confinement for 64 days.

When he was interrogated, Mahdi says the police beat him. Mahdi’s daughter, Maryam, told us that her father had two broken ribs and was suffering from severe neck and back pain when she saw him after his time in detention.

Charged with attempting to overthrow the system

After Mahdi and Jalila had called for their union to strike, they were arrested by Bahraini police on charges including

  • Halting the educational process
  • Inciting hatred of the regime
  • Attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force
  • Possessing pamphlets
  • Disseminating fabricated stories and information.

We have never seen any evidence of these charges being true.

Mahdi and Jalila were tried before a military court in September 2011. They were both found guilty, and Mahdi sentenced to 10 years in prison – which was reduced to five years after an appeal.  Jalila was dealt a three year sentence, later reduced to six months. She was released in November 2012.

Prisoner of conscience

Because he is in jail solely for expressing an opinion, Mahdi is a prisoner of conscience.

Mahdi is not in jail for criminal activity. He is imprisoned because he exercised his right to speak freely, and his right to freedom of assembly. All of us should be able to peacefully demonstrate with others as part of a democracy, to express our views and raise issues that are important to us.

There is no evidence that Mahdi or Jalila ever called for violent protests or used violent tactics. Yet Mahdi's claim that he was tortured in detention has never been investigated.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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