Bahraini teachers face further jail time after 'nightmare' verdict

‘All these teachers did was to call for a strike in their role as trade union leaders’ - Philip Luther

Amnesty International has denounced a decision to uphold prison sentences against two former leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association.

On Sunday 21 October Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison while Jalila al-Salman - who was not present in the courtroom - was handed a six-month sentence when an appeal court upheld guilty verdicts against them.

While the ruling reduced their sentences from ten years’ and three years’ imprisonment respectively, family members immediately expressed their dismay, calling the ruling a “nightmare”. Their lawyers have said they will appeal the decision before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation.

Following his arrest after calling for a teachers’ strike in early 2011, Abu Dheeb has already spent some 18 months in prison, while al-Salman spent five-and-a-half months in prison before being released on bail. Amnesty considers Abu Dheeb to be a prisoner of conscience and will grant the same status to al-Salman if she is returned to jail.

Abu Dheeb and al-Salman were initially sentenced before a military court last year for, among other things, using their positions as vice-president and president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association 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”. Amnesty believes that neither of them used or advocated violence and is not aware that any such evidence was presented during their trials.

Prior to that, they were held in solitary confinement, where they say they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and forced to sign “confessions” that they did not even read. Amnesty is urging the Bahraini authorities to fully investigate the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, to make the results public and hold those responsible to account.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“All these teachers did was to call for a strike in their role as trade union leaders - this is merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and is certainly not a crime.
“With this guilty verdict, Bahrain’s justice system has added to a growing list of outrageous injustices.

“Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally, and Jalila al-Salman must not be put behind bars - these convictions must be quashed as a matter of urgency.”

Following Sunday’s verdict, Abu Dheeb’s daughter Maryam Abu Dheeb told Amnesty: “I was sure this was coming to an end. This is a nightmare.”

Minutes after the verdict, she also posted the following message on Twitter: “Mama’s tears are heartbreaking ... 563 days were hard ... 5 years are a nightmare.”

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