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The Bahraini authorities must immediately release two teachers held since they led a strike in March if they are being held solely for their involvement in peaceful protests, Amnesty International said today, amid claims one of them was tortured.
Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb were among several board members of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association arrested in Manama after the group called for a teachers’ strike amid widescale pro-reform protests in March.
Their colleagues have since been released, but the two - the group’s former president and vice-president - are still facing trial on charges that include “inciting hatred against the regime” and “calling to overthrow and change the regime by force”.
More than 40 security officers raided Jalila al-Salman’s house in Manama on 29 March. At first, she was reportedly taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate and held in solitary confinement and reportedly subjected to beatings for about a week.
She was then transferred to a detention centre in ‘Issa Town, south of the capital, where she remains. Her family learned of her whereabouts two months after her arrest, but have only been allowed to visit her on two occasions, under strict surveillance. Both Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb appeared before a military court several times in June before their cases were transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
According to local human rights organisations, many teachers and members of the BTA were detained, harassed and tortured or otherwise ill-treated for their participation in protests earlier this year. After the arrests the Bahrain Teachers’ Association was dissolved by the country’s Minister of Human Rights and Social Development and its members replaced by government appointees.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:
“None of the statements made in relation to the teachers’ strike advocated violence of any kind.
“If these teachers are being held solely because they led a peaceful demonstration, they must be released immediately.
“We are very concerned about reports that Jalila al-Salman was beaten in custody - the Bahraini authorities must immediately set up a full, impartial and independent investigation into these allegations and bring to justice anyone found responsible.
“Bahrain’s authorities must release all detainees who are still being held merely for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression during protests earlier this year.
“Anyone charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence must be promptly given a fair trial in a civilian court and without resort to the death penalty.”
Hundreds of people across Bahraini society have been detained since mid-March, when authorities cracked down on pro-reform protests. Scores of detainees, including medical professionals and prominent opposition activists, were brought before military courts for leading the protests and in some cases calling for a change of government.
Roula al-Saffar, the head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, has been held for more than 100 days and is the only other woman besides Jalila al-Salman still being detained in relation to the protests. She is among a group of health professionals accused of committing felonies during the protests, including theft of medicines, stockpiling arms and giving anti-government statements to the media - accusations that they strongly deny.